HISD’s Child Nutrition Department goes above and beyond

Harlandale ISD’s Child Nutrition Program has been hard at work all summer long preparing for what is going to be another busy school year. Students can expect new recipes made with real, fresh ingredients.

There are 23 kitchens in the district and the preparation begins at 6 a.m. They have to be ready to cook and serve meals for nearly 15,000 students every day.

For HISD Child Nutrition Department Supervisor Roxanne Rivas, achieving this task is made possible thanks to the hard work and dedication of all 180 kitchen staff members at Harlandale ISD.

“We have the best managers. They really do love what they’re doing. They’ve stepped up to everything that we’ve handed them, every new regulation or requirement, because they know it’s going to make our department better,” Rivas said. “We have a big job, and there isn’t any time to rest. You cannot rest when it comes to food safety. We are constantly checking our machines and equipment so that they cook the food at the right temperature and make sure that all the kids are safe – that’s our main goal.”

Every school year, the department also finds ways to improve school menus, which includes reducing sodium levels and introducing new recipes made from scratch.

“There are things that we cook completely from scratch that maybe not a lot of people know of, like the spaghetti and meat sauce. We have cheese enchiladas that some districts buy frozen; however, we roll them, so our enchiladas are fresh,” Rivas said. “We also have lasagna made from scratch. It is a lot of work, especially if you are cooking for about 600 to 900 kids at one school.”

Every meal prepared follows the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) nutrition guidelines. “When the USDA started to regulate the sodium and other nutrients, such as fats and wheat, they told us that we can only serve whole grain foods,” Rivas explained. “From Harlandale’s perspective, we have been trying to be the first ones to change, and we carefully analyze the nutrients of everything we serve.”

This year, the department will use a new nutrient analysis software from the USDA to track all of the food and evaluate the amount of sodium each week – something that Rivas is looking forward to. “It’s really going to make it easier for us to just plug in our entrée and put in all of our ingredients. Then, we’ll be able to spot what item is high on calories or high on sodium and either tweak the recipe or change it completely.”

Child Nutrition Department Director Marcos Rodriguez joined the department three years ago, and one of his primary objectives has been to increase the number of food items made from scratch. His cooking background has allowed him to work side by side with many school cooks and teach them first-hand how they can improve a recipe.

“He said that by cooking more items from scratch, like our diced chicken for tacos, we will be able to control the sodium because we don’t have to add the salt. He also added a baked fish. In our culture, some of us do not eat a lot of fish, so we got a baked fish that is low in fat and healthy. We try to incorporate the fish once a week for the kids,” Rivas added.

Overall, Rivas is excited for the new school year and is grateful to have a wonderful team that she can count on.

“I am very proud of them. In every training that we have, they know that we are trying to make our department and food better. It’s going to make our kids better at what they do. When they need to come in and study at school and be ready to focus, they’re going to be able to do it because they’re not going to be hungry. When they eat breakfast or lunch with us, they’re going to be ready to learn,” Rivas concluded.

HISD's Child Nutrition Department goes above and beyond

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