At Woodland Primary School, the food services staff uses the alphabet throughout the school year to offer students new experiences at mealtime
WOODLAND — Throughout Woodland Public Schools, the district’s dedicated food services employees develop new recipes and utilize interesting menu items to offer students the opportunity to both learn and eat something new each day.
“We want to expose our students to foods that are new to them which they might not normally see in their day-to-day lives,” said Laura Perry, the district’s nutrition services director. “Lunch should be an opportunity to experience something new.”
At Woodland Primary School, the food services staff uses the alphabet throughout the school year to offer students new experiences at mealtime. Perry works closely with the school’s chefs, Cris Forgey and Judi Lute, to build recipes around fruits and vegetables students might not experience at home.
“Each week, we pick a new food corresponding with that week’s letter and create a menu item while also providing students with background on the food’s origin,” explained Perry. “This week, we’re featuring edamame beans for ‘E’ and later this year we’ll have jicama, a root vegetable, for ‘J,’ and papaya, a fruit, for ‘P’.”
Judi Lute has worked in food service at Woodland Public Schools for 25 years where seeing her students’ smiling faces every day motivates and inspires her.
“I love it when kids come up to the serving window and tell us how much they love our food,” she said. “We always share kind words with our students so they always have kind words for us.”
Although the menus and types of food may have changed through the years, one element remains most important for Lute, “Camaraderie with your coworkers is key,” she explained. “When you have a good team member, everything works smoothly, and I’m truly blessed to be able to work with Cris.”
Lute also credits the dedicated staff of the Primary School. “All the staff here are just amazing – they jump in whenever we need them because it’s all about teamwork and it’s all for the kids!”
For Cris Forgey, working in school food service is a family tradition as her mom worked in food services for Camas School District while Cris was growing up.
“My favorite part of food service is working with Judi and the kids, of course,” she said. “I like being here for the kids and making them laugh – I figure if I can make a difference for at least one student each day then I’ve done a good job.”
Sodexo provides food services for Woodland Public Schools with staff at each school working to provide educational and creative meals.
“School lunches often carry a somewhat negative stigma that they’re boring or not flavorful,” said Perry. “School lunch can be creative and interesting – it can be a chance for students of all ages to try something new.”
In order to judge the popularity of the new ideas for each school’s menus, Perry uses a surprising technique – checking out the trash.
“One of my favorite methods to judge the popularity of our recipes is to stand by the garbage can and see what’s getting thrown away,” she explained. “Naturally, the menu items that run out the quickest are the most popular, however the food that ends up in the garbage tells us a lot about each school’s student body’s likes and dislikes.”
Naturally, students at each school have different favorite foods corresponding to their different ages. At the Primary School, hamburger patties and mashed potatoes are popular; Intermediate School students prefer chicken nugget bowls with vegetables and gravy; at Woodland Middle School, students enjoy more complex dishes like Pad Thai; while at Woodland High School students get treated to a la cart items along with a wide variety of different dishes including pulled pork, a recent favorite. One cherished American dish always goes fast no matter the school – pizza.
“Pizza is popular for any age level,” said Perry. “However, you never know what new dish kids are going to love so it’s incredibly important to get students’ feedback to find out what they like and what they don’t.”
Perry started working in food service during college and fell in love with serving people of all ages, however Woodland Public Schools holds a special place for her.
“I’ve had a lot of jobs in the food industry, but there’s something different about how school staff members care about their customers – their kids – this much,” she said. “Working somewhere where everyone’s as excited as I am about doing a good job every day has made school food service my favorite place to work!”