Lunchtime Solutions satisfies appetites with ‘Chef Day’ demos | Food and Cooking
SIOUX CITY — Kerry Steele adds shredded carrots to a sizzling, steamy pan of broccoli and beef.
“I love the punch of color that the carrots add to the dish,” he said. “The carrots also adds a nice sweetness.”
A chef who had previously cooked at resorts in Orlando, Florida, and Hilton Head, South Carolina, Steele now works as the facilities manager for the Dakota Dunes-based Lunchtime Solutions, which is a school lunch provider for more than 50 school districts in six states.
Locally, the privately owned K- 12 food service management company makes meals for Bishop Heelan Catholic, Dakota Valley, Elk Point-Jefferson and Hinton Community Schools, among others.
“When I was starting my career, I never thought I’d be making school lunches for a living,” he said, splashing some soy sauce onto his Asian-inspired meal. “Now, I wished I would’ve known about this 20 years ago.”
Steele was preparing the special entree during a monthly “Chef’s Day” at Bishop Heelan Catholic High School.
“We do ‘Chef Days’ at all of our schools,” Ali Lampman, Lunchtime Solutions menu research and development chef, explained. “This is when we’ll come and do a cooking demonstration for an entree that’s not ordinarily on our menu.”
Past “Chef Day” creations have included such entrees as gyros, Chinese Lo Mein and a Chicken Florentine.
Lampman enjoys “Chef Days” because it gets her out of a corporate kitchen and into a school kitchen.
“My customers are kids,” she reasoned. “Kids will always tell you what they like or not like. They’re not afraid to give us plenty of feedback.”
However, Lunchtime Solutions must strictly adhere to United States Department of Agriculture nutritional standards set for school lunches.
These requirements — designed to limit students’ caloric intake, curb trans fats and sodium consumption, while increasing fresh fruit and vegetables — are placed on “Chef Day” options as well on the more conventional sandwich or the made-from-scratch comfort foods offered on a daily basis.
“While those nutritional requirements may pose challenges at times, instructing kids on healthy food and lifestyle choices is a big priority for me,” she said.
This is especially evident on “Chef Day,” when students can see all of the ingredients that go into a meal.
Jake Delfs, Heelan’s dean of students, said he’s “blown away” at the variety of food options available during at lunchtime.
“Students can choose from burgers, a sub sandwich station and a fresh fruit and veggie bar,” he noted. “From a guy who remembers eating rectangular pizza in a lunchroom years ago, this is really nice.”
Heelan sophomore Chrystal Mueller agreed with Delfs’ sentiment.
“This is really delicious,” she said, taking a bite of her broccoli and beef lunch. “I like it a lot.”
Calling herself a bit of a “foodie,” junior Esthela Perez gives a thumbs-up to Steele.
“School lunches don’t always have a lot of flavor,” Perez, who makes homemade enchiladas and tamales with her family, admitted. “This broccoli and beef has plenty of flavor.”
Lampman is always trying to gauge reaction from her sometimes picky customer base.
“It is definitely a balancing act because you want to be innovative by creating healthy foods that kids actually want to eat,” she said.
As Steele continued to dish out platefuls of his broccoli and beef, Lampman wanted to give students a nutritional head start.
“If students learn about healthy eating habits at an early age, they’ll be eating healthy foods for the rest of their lives, she said.