Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Manor district creates high-tech school kitchen

Decker Elementary School's kitchen has gone high tech.

A computer system paid for with a federal stimulus grant has given the kitchen staff a swifter way to organize menus, keep track of daily work and inventory, and monitor ovens and other appliances. Because of the system, installed in August 2009, the kitchen manager has reduced her paperwork and can focus more attention on food safety and efficiency, officials said.
Manor school district officials took U.S. Department of Agriculture officials on a kitchen tour at the eastern Travis County school Tuesday .

George Townsend , the district's food service director, said that not only has the technology made kitchen management more efficient, it also has given employees a greater sense of purpose.

"I think they enjoy their jobs more," Townsend said. "By having healthier food and putting an emphasis on how important nutrition is, it makes them feel like their job is more important."
Money from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 paid for the system and new ovens. Decker received $16,000 for the revamped kitchen, Townsend said.

Decker needed a secondary oven after removing its fryer to comply with the 2004 Texas Public School Nutrition Policy, which required that all schools eliminate the use of deep fryers in their daily meal preparations in an effort to fight child obesity.

About 20 percent of Texas children ages 10 to 17 are obese, a recent report by the Trust for America's Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation found. That rate ties Texas with Arkansas in seventh place for child obesity, according to the report, "F as in Fat: How Obesity Threatens America's Future 2010."

Janey Thornton , USDA deputy undersecretary for food, nutrition and consumer services , toured Decker on Tuesday to see the government's money in action. She spoke about the need to solve the childhood obesity problem in the United States.

"We recognize that schools are only a small part of the issue," Thornton said. "We need to be teaching kids at school how to eat and then have parents reinforce it at home."

Decker's new computerized kitchen and convection ovens have inspired the kitchen staff in the year since they were installed, Decker Principal Leslie Whitworth said.

"The food is fresh and made from ingredients in the kitchen rather than just something packaged," Whitworth said. "Preparing food and watching the children enjoy it makes them a stronger part of the Decker community."

Teachers at Decker push students to try new foods and learn good eating habits, which some kitchen staff members say is working.

"I think the children like what they are eating," said Susan Covington , Decker's PTA president. "I've never seen as many people get involved in the nutrition program before."

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