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Food demo highlights fresh ingredients, ideas

cooking demonstrationRecently, a corner of the Tafolla Middle School cafeteria looked more like a Food Network test kitchen than a typical school eating facility. Decked out in his black chef’s coat, Chef Jimmy Villarreal, SAISD culinary specialist, stood behind a table laden with fresh vegetables, noodles and small bowls of condiments like honey, sriracha, soy sauce and garlic powder. 

A group of students surrounded the table and Villarreal began mixing, pouring and chopping, explaining each step to the captive audience. 

“Don’t cut yourself, chef!” joked one of the students as Villarreal demonstrated a cutting technique on a bunch of fresh cilantro. 

Villarreal whisked the liquid ingredients together with spices, adding the concoction to a bowl of whole wheat noodles. Tossing in the cilantro, carrots and sugar snap peas, he chatted with the group as he completed one of SAISD’s newest menu additions, lo mein salad. Students sampled the dish before going through the lunch line to sample two more recent menu additions, an Asian broccoli salad and sweet and sour chicken with a scratch sauce, which was developed by Villarreal this summer.

“It was great to see the students be so interested, and for them to see how the lo mein salad was prepared and then taste it right there,” said Villarreal. “We like to present unknown foods in a fun way that gets the students excited to try it.”

While the demonstration was grabbing the Tafolla students’ attention, the new menu items were simultaneously being served on the lunch line across the District.

This cooking demo put on by the SAISD Child Nutrition Services Department was the first of its kind at the District and was precipitated by the partnership between the District and the Culinary Institute of America (CIA) at San Antonio. The goal of the two-year collaboration, which began last summer, is to inspire and empower child nutrition managers and their staff members to elevate school meals. 

This summer, every SAISD cafeteria staff member, all 400-plus of them, received training at The Pearl’s CIA campus. There, they learned the lo mein recipe, and others, which they brought back to their campuses for the 2019-2020 school year. 

“We had a lot of fun at the training this summer,” said Paulita Torres, cafeteria manager at Tafolla. “Just like the kids tried out different foods here today, we all tried types of foods that we haven’t eaten ourselves. It was a great learning experience, and our students will definitely benefit from it.” 

Dr. Jennifer Sides, support services director with the Child Nutrition Services Department, said adding and changing menus is necessary because students get “menu fatigue.” 

“We want them to expand their minds beyond chicken nuggets and spaghetti,” she said. “It is important to diversify their palates by tasting food from different cultures, as well as vegetables they may have never tried outside of school.” 

Sides believes that SAISD students deserve the best and she and her team want to give them the opportunity to have anything that any other student in the world would get to try in their school cafeteria.

“Introducing them to healthy, new foods will improve their health and wellness and we hope that as they grow into adults, they are able to take some of these habits with them after they graduate,” said Sides.

Jeff Price, principal at Tafolla, was on hand for the tasting and said that his students have been very receptive to the menu changes over the past few years.

“I think it is fantastic that they get to see how their food is made,’ said Price. “Just listening to the students buzz before the demo even started was really cool. There are so many options out there that are healthy that we don’t think about. There is a perception that healthy means just plain kale, right? But you can have a delicious, balanced meal and can get away from just the regular pizza and burgers and fries standard fare. Food opens your mind to other things as well; there is a cultural side to it. Everybody brings something to the table and food is a great way to share that.”  

To view the latest SAISD menus, click here.


lo mein salad

lo mein salad

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