More variety, healthier options coming to Riverhead cafeterias

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09/11/2014 12:00 PM |
Keith Graham, the new food services director for Riverhead School District, in the high school kitchen. Mr. Graham says the district will be able to offer fresher foods to all students once kitchen renovations in each school are completed. (Credit: Jen Nuzzo)

Keith Graham, the new food services director for Riverhead School District, in the high school kitchen. Mr. Graham says the district will be able to offer fresher foods to all students once kitchen renovations in each school are completed. (Credit: Jen Nuzzo)

Within the next couple years, all of Riverhead School District’s students will receive a wider variety of fresher, healthier and tastier meals. 

That’s because each of the district’s elementary school will soon be capable of preparing their own dishes as opposed to receiving pre-made meals cooked at the high school, according to Keith Graham, the district’s new food director.

Capital improvements — including new kitchens — at Aquebogue, Phillips Avenue and Riley Avenue elementary schools were completed last year.

Over at the high school, the district replaced walk-in freezers through an energy performance contract. The new purchases will allow the district to buy more food in bulk, said Mr. Graham, who replaced retiring food director Karen Ball this school year.

Construction at the middle school, Pulaski Street School and Roanoke Avenue Elementary School is scheduled for completion in September 2015. The district-wide construction is part of a $78 million capital improvement bond project approved by voters in 2011.

After construction is completed in each building, all students will have access to fresh meals prepared in their schools, Mr. Graham said. The district will also save on transportation costs since the pre-made meal system will no longer be necessary.

“We offer the same type of foods, but we’ll be able to expand on what we offer,” he said. “We can offer a wider range of vegetables — more vegetables to fit all of the categories that we have to follow in the guidelines.”

For example, Mr. Graham said, cafeteria workers can prepare fresh sautéed broccoli in garlic and oil as opposed to using the frozen kind.

The district will be able to offer a wider variety of fruits and vegetables in general since it won’t be restricted as to what can fit inside transporting trays, he said, and is looking into using produce from school gardens and local farms.

In addition, students won’t have to settle on five pre-made and pre-determined food choices anymore. The district’s food staff is also undergoing cooking training, he said.

“They’ve already been doing a great job for years — it’s been a great program,” Mr. Graham said. “Luckily now, with the bond being passed and kitchens being built, it’s just something that can be nothing but a positive to expand on.”

In addition to $2.40 lunch meals and breakfast meals at $1.25 per student at the elementary schools, as well as a free or reduced lunch program for low-income families, the district is offering a new program called EZSchoolPay. The online payment program allows parents to prepay meals and monitor what their children purchase, he said.

Mr. Graham, who previously worked for the state Department of Education and helped create a breakfast program for city schools, said he believes offering a variety of made-to-order meals will encourage picky eaters to try different fruits and vegetables.

He’s also arranging student taste tests at each elementary school in order to best utilize the new kitchens.

“Whatever dark green vegetable we have to offer, we can find out which ones they like the best,” he said. “Students make a choice; they feel they have input and will be more enticed to pick that item themselves.”

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