By Patrick White 2013-06-11 22:26:12
The Joy of Discovery School nutrition professionals weigh in on recent equipment “finds” that have improved their operations. Experience shows that there are two kinds of products: those you swear by, and those you swear at—the key difference being the kind of language used. In an effort to maintain the “G” rating of this magazine, we asked a few school nutrition professionals to discuss some of the foodservice equipment, tools and gadgets they swear by. In particular, we asked them to describe some “new equipment discoveries”—products they’ve added recently that have proven exceptionally beneficial for their programs. Some are large (ovens), and some are small (kitchen utensils), but all have made a big difference. Here’s the feedback we received. Kudos to… “We’ve started using some new small utensils this year, a lot of which has to do with increasing the variety of vegetables and trying to get the students to try some new flavors,” explains Trish Molloy, RD, foodservice director at West Hartford (Conn.) Public Schools. “So, each school now has a Microplane planer and a juicer.” Kitchen staff can use the Microplane, for example, to easily zest some lemon onto broccoli. And the juicer is used, for instance, as a way to prepare a lime glaze to season black beans. “Both have come in very handy,” reports Molloy. On a larger scale, the West Hartford district has been purchasing Panasonic Sonic Steamers (combination microwave oven/ steamer units) in recent years whenever steamers need to be replaced. “We’ve found them to be very efficient and very cost-effective to use,” Molloy reports. “They look like a large microwave and have no boiler or water attachments or filters, so there’s a lot less maintenance. You plug the machine in and start using it.” According to Molloy, the units steam cook in a way that retains nutrients and the all-important color of vegetables: “They’re very good for batch-cooking vegetables, to get them done quickly between lunch periods, and the quality comes out very good.” They also are used in the district to heat marinara and meat sauces, soups and anything else that the team would typically steam heat. Molloy cautions that the equipment requires special high-heat plastic pans (conventional metal pans cannot be used), but the plastic pans can then be transferred directly into steam tables for service. Lynette Rock, SNS, director of foodservices at Torrance (Calif.) Unified School District, says that she is currently more focused on cooling, rather than heating, and thus has been adding more walk-in refrigerators and freezers in her district’s kitchens. A related technology purchase is proving to be especially helpful in two areas: from a food safety standpoint, as well as adding a measure of convenience and efficiency. “In order to keep a close eye on the temperature of the units and ensure they are holding the product at the correct temperature, we are having the SMART Temps Temperature Management System installed on all of [the coding units],” Rock explains. “This way, we can monitor the temperature of the units from the comfort of our office! Any problems and the unit will alert us by e-mail or phone.” Deborah Taylor, SNS, school nutrition director at Shawnee (Okla.) Public Schools, has similarly rave reviews for a much simpler item: “I like something we call ‘round knives.’ They are perfect for scooping seeds out of cantaloupe and other things like that,” she explains. These ring-shaped tools are actually known as fruit scoops and come in various sizes from Progressive International. “You can get the job done with just one swoop rather than having to work and work and work at it,” says Taylor. “Anyone who has ever used a melon baller knows that what comes out isn’t really a ball. With these, because the food just passes through them, there’s nothing to get stuck. They are so much faster. Unfortunately, they are plastic—I would love to know if someone makes them in metal.” Taylor also has discovered a favorite larger piece of equipment: a specific type of skittle. “It’s a combination of a tilting skillet and a kettle,” explains Taylor, who prefers a model from Legion, because it has a high-profile (tall) lid instead of the flat lid found on most tilting skillets. It can be used as a kettle and even as a grill—“It has really even heat, so it works well as a grill, [and] it can be used as a non-pressurized steamer, cabinet or roaster,” she details. “It’s very versatile, it’s not very expensive and it’s easy to work on.” Taylor says she sees very few of these units in school nutrition operations, but thinks many programs could benefit from adding them to their kitchens. Meeting a Need Affordability and versatility also are important to Kelly Schlein, school nutrition director for Jasper County (Ga.) School District. “I have a small district, and I’m always looking for cutting-edge equipment, but cost savings is always important,” she says. Schlein recently discovered a piece of equipment with that combination of attributes on display at her state association’s annual conference. “We have found the Winston CVap Thermalizer CAT522 to be a lifesaver. We feel like we hit the jackpot when we found it, because it allows us to precision cook: It cooks, it steams, it holds, it thermalizes without drying our food out,” explains Schlein. “It’s similar to a combi oven, but you can get two of these for the price of a combi. It’s spacious inside and really helps a district like ours that has to do a lot more with a lot less.” She considered purchasing the larger CAT529 but found that the smaller unit was the perfect fit for the footprint available in her kitchen. At Garden Grove (Calif.) Unified School District, Director of Food Services Agnes Lally has her eye on a piece of equipment that recently came to her attention. “I saw a combination hot/cold Cambro unit. I am going to explore this piece of equipment, especially at a site that serves a smaller population,” says Lally. “Instead of delivering both hot and cold carts, I may be able to deliver one cart, which would be helpful, as there is not much space at this site.” Roxanne Knops, nutrition services manager at Willow Lane Elementary School in White Bear Lake, Minn., reports that her “latest and greatest is the 3-in-1 sectioner from Sunkist to go along with their fruit sectioning machine.” Knops says that although the machine has been in use for years in her kitchen, the new attachment cuts oranges in half and then segments the halves into three pieces, which is a serving portion. “It’s a time saver for serving. There’s an attachment for cucumbers, too, that looks awesome,” she states. Thinking bigger, but also with an eye on improved productivity, Knops says she dreams of getting a dish machine that is taller and capable of accommodating a rack with six sheet pans per load. “It would be amazing to have it in our old but efficient kitchen!” says Knops covetously. Linette Dodson, SNS, director of school nutrition with Carrollton (Ga.) City Schools, shares Knops’ appreciation for equipment that speeds up the prep process for fruits and vegetables. “I have recently purchased a Robot Coupe food processor with slicing and cubing attachments and also a melon peeler for each of my schools, and these have really helped with bulk fresh vegetable and fruit production,” offers Dodson. “We are able to process honeydew and cantaloupe cubes, sliced cucumbers and squash in a really quick amount of time.” Robot Coupe also gets a vote from Janeen Peterson, RD, SNS, school nutrition director for Rosemount-Apple Valley- Eagan Public Schools in Rosemount, Minn. “We’ve purchased them for quite a few of our schools,” she explains. “They help to process our fresh vegetables—slicing and dicing them into more bite-sized pieces so we can do veggie sticks and things like that. We’ve found that kids like fresh vegetables [more than] hot vegetables, so this has been a huge help for us.” Peterson’s team also uses the Robot Coupe food processors to make their own hummus, which can be expensive to purchase but considerably more affordable to make inhouse. “To be able to whip up our own makes it more cost effective for us and lets us make our own different kinds of hummus. We’ve even made peanut butter hummus!” she explains. Another smaller kitchen item that’s come in handy recently is a Vitamix blender, which staff use to make smoothies by combining fresh fruit, yogurt and milk or juice. “The blender is pretty inexpensive, and we feel good about serving the smoothies,” says Peterson. Presentation Pays Another new “discovery” for Rosemount-Apple Valley- Eagan Public Schools has been a move to the use of black serving trays and bright-colored bowls. “We’re in the assessment phase right now; we just want to see if it makes an impact on students when it comes to fruits and vegetables,” Peterson explains. “We were looking for smallwares that would help make our fruits and vegetables ‘pop’ more, which the black trays seem to do versus just using an aluminum baking sheet. The appearance looks so much better, it’s amazing.” Linda Staab, cafeteria manager at South Hills Middle School in Pittsburgh, Pa., also has discovered new trays that improve presentation quality. “This school year, we are using a new black vinyl portion tray for our fruits and vegetables, [rather than the cardboard boats we used in the past],” explains Staab of the Par-Pak 5-oz. and 8-oz. offer-vs.-serve portion trays the school has switched to. “They make a much nicer presentation on the serving line,” she concludes. Finally, it’s worth noting that the best equipment discoveries sometimes are created rather than purchased. Suzy Ketelsen, SNS, food and nutrition manager for Cedar Rapids (Iowa) Community School District, says that was the case during a recent construction project. “Before sitting down with kitchen designers and architects, we visited a few schools for innovative ideas. At Johnston Community School District (also in Iowa), the team found a creative way to hide garbage cans, prevent trays from being thrown away—and do so with a touch of class!” Ketelsen credits LaRae Doll, SNS, director at Johnston, with the idea of building a custom garbage area with cabinets to hide the trash cans and a stainless steel top with holes cut that allow for easy disposal of everything but trays. “We thought this idea was very creative and will help solve an ongoing situation of students throwing away expensive trays!” Ketelsen notes. Necessity also was the mother of invention recently at Bondurant-Farrar Community (Iowa) School District. “One day I walked into our middle school, and my head cook was duct-taping a long-handle spoon onto the end of a 1⁄4 cup-spoodle,” for service lines, recalls School Nutrition Director Deanna Olson. She pointed out that such an approach wasn’t sanitary, but a subsequent search of restaurant supply companies yielded no long-handled spoodles. “The students just throw the normal-size-handle spoodles into the food, or they fall in accidentally, because the handle is not long enough,” laments Olson. (Talk about a situation to swear at!) “All schools could use these, because of the new meal patterns. I thought it was cute that our cook was trying to fix this problem encountered by every school kitchen that does offer-vs.-serve,” she states, pleading for a utensils supplier to produce and market a longer-handled version. Maybe such a creation, along with a few more yet to be envisioned, will be on the can’t-live-without-it list the next time School Nutrition asks about new equipment discoveries. And if you finish this article thinking that your operation has more products to swear at than to swear by, maybe it’s time to spend part of the summer casting an eye toward what else is available to foodservice operations! Be sure to check the magazine’s ANC Exhibitor List (page 94), our monthly “On the Market” column (page 144) and advertisements throughout the issue for vendors offering new tools for your trade! Patrick White is a freelance writer in Middlesex, Vt., and a former assistant editor of this publication. Sectionizer photo on page 138 courtesy of Dawn Richard/Anoka-Hennepin Schools. Fruit scoops photo on page 142 courtesy of Deborah Taylor, SNS/Shawnee Public Schools. Other equipment photos courtesy of Panasonic, SMART Temps, Winston, Robot Coupe, Vitamix and Cambro. Resources to Explore Following is a list of companies whose products are mentioned in this article. • Cambro Manufacturing www.cambro.com/School • Legion Industries www.legionindustries.com • Panasonic www.panasonic.com/business/commercial-food-services • Par-Pak www.parpak.com • Progressive International http://progressiveintl.com • Robot Coupe www.robotcoupeusa.com • SMART Temps www.smart-temps.com • Vitamix ttps://commercial.vitamix.com • Winston Industries www.winstonind.com
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