Forsyth County public school students aren’t the only ones who may notice some changes in their lunches this school year.
Pinecrest Academy, a private Catholic school in south Forsyth, has employed the services of chef Steve Sommer to improve its school nutrition program.
A 1988 graduate of what was then Forsyth County High School, Sommer has been a professional chef for about 25 years.
He received his professional training at the Chicago Institute of Culinary Arts, before preparing meals for such well-known individuals and groups as Chef Wolfgang Puck, Tom Glavine, Tiger Woods and the Chicago Bears.
Sommer said he and his staff of about eight will be making big changes to the Pinecrest food program, after being inspired by work he did at assisted living facilities.
“It’s the same concept with both seniors and kids,” he said. “They both get the same type of food if you don’t change it for them.”
That type of food, he said, often includes an overabundance of processed, pre-packaged or canned items.
He said during his most recent work at an assisted living facility, he and his staff were able to change the eating patterns of many and increase favorability of the food program.
“We got out of all the processed, canned food and we cooked everything from scratch,” he said. “We took their favorability numbers … [from] around 32 percent and we turned that around to 87 percent in a couple of months.”
He hopes to have similar results at Pinecrest.
“It is difficult because we’ve got to go from last year, where they were getting chicken tenders … chicken nuggets, hot dogs and a lot of stuff that was brought in … that’s what they were using was bagged and canned food,” he said.
“Now ours will be fresh or fresh frozen. Our beef will be grass-fed when feasible, our chicken is hormone-free, and we use organic whenever possible.”
A long-term goal of his food program is to begin a school vegetable garden on the grounds.
“Then we’ll have the kids that will be able to work the garden and see what things are growing, and then they’ll be able to see that product that they actually grew be used in the kitchen,” said Sommer, adding he hopes to begin the garden in the spring.
Other changes, he said, include fewer fried items, lower sugar desserts, and the elimination of all carbonated beverages, which will be replaced with “filtered ice water, fresh fruit-flavored ice water, low or no-sugar lemonade and fruit punch, unsweet and lightly sweetened ice teas.”
Standard school milk products will still be available.
He said he doesn’t want to overwhelm the students with a radically different menu, but does want to make small changes toward more healthful meals.
“I’ve looked at some other menus from other places and as a kid, I wouldn’t eat it,” he said. “It may be healthy, but as a kid there’s no way I’m eating something I don’t even understand what it is. Maybe kids have changed since I grew up, but I don’t know any that would want to eat tofu and stuff. That’s not what we’re talking about.
“The immediate changes we’re talking about are eliminating a lot of the sugar and cooking from scratch instead of all the processed and canned stuff, and that right off the bat is making the meals healthier.”