In order to serve food that was both healthy and tasty, Jefferson County Public Schools (JCPS) took an obvious yet unconventional approach: They hired a chef.
On retainer for the district, the chef visits a few schools each week, observes food service processes, then offers advice on how to make easy, low-cost changes that improve food flavors while reducing fat and sodium content.
One of the major changes JCPS made was to start to purchase local ingredients. Julia Bauscher, JCPS’s nutrition director, notes that buying local ingredients is a mutually beneficial arrangement and can be less expensive than one may think. “We’re a large district, which gives us bargaining power with local farmers while at the same time providing (them) with a stable revenue base. Rather than narrowing our menu options, it’s actually expanded them.”
JCPS uses these fresh, in-season, local ingredients to create unique dishes, such as “Blue Ribbon” muffins, which are made with whole wheat flour and zucchini. Among the healthy menu items in JCPS kitchens are whole-grain dinner rolls (often featuring locally produced flour), soups, sauces, chili, tacos, chicken potpies and turkey roasts. One of the most popular items—taco soup—is made with three different kinds of beans.
“We’ve proven that schools can do scratch cooking on a reasonable budget,” said Bauscher. “We just do our scratch cooking in 200-gallon kettles.”
 Julia Bauscher, telephone interview, April 20, 2011.