Open Houses Can Create Ambassadors for Your Feeding Program

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Too often school meals get a bad rap. That’s why it’s so important to rally the support of teachers, administration and staff who can be advocates and spread the word about the great work you are doing.

At Gwinnett County Public Schools (GCPS) in metro Atlanta, the school nutrition department recognizes the critical role that the greater school community plays in the success of its feeding program. For the second year in a row, GCPS held its “Taste of Café Gwinnett” event on Oct. 6 to give more than 700 employees from its central office an opportunity to sample and learn about the menu items that will be served to kids throughout the year.

“We know that our staff members are all parents, grandparents or neighbors to kids who attend school in our district,” said Rachel Petraglia, culinary coordinator for the GCPS School Nutrition Program. “It is important that we keep them informed about the menu we are serving.”

The sampling event takes place for two hours around lunchtime so employees can come hungry and ready to try menu items. A number of breakfast and lunch items are all prepared just as they appear in the school cafeteria but in bite-size portions.

Petraglia says the event is an impactful way to educate staff about how menus are written and how products are served, showcase dishes and share information about how products are selected. Manufacturers, like General Mills Foodservice, are also invited to attend and help answer questions about their particular products for schools.

This year, General Mills attended the Taste of Café Gwinnett to sample Yoplait ParfaitPro, which is used for the district’s parfaits and smoothies, and the new Pillsbury Ciabatta and Panini breads, which the district uses for a variety of sandwiches. GCPS also serves the Panini bread, cut diagonally in fourths, with Chef Salads.

GCPS introduced sandwiches with the breads last year and have given them an even bigger presence on this year’s menus—particularly at the high school level where sandwiches are on the menu every day. At the Taste of Café Gwinnett event, Petraglia and Carpp were happy to share the backstory of the breads and how they are a good fit for school menus.

“We tested a lot of breads and the Pillsbury breads held up and met our expectations,” said Petraglia. “The breads work well for staff because they are pre-cut and pre-sliced, as well as quick and easy to thaw and serve. And they allow us to make high-quality sandwiches that kids are used to seeing outside of school.”