Timothy Cipriano: Taking the Lead

Timothy Cipriano, executive director of food services for 20,800-student New Haven (Conn.) Public Schools, is acutely aware of the nutritional problems facing his students. The district has an 80% free and reduced percentage, and according to Feeding America, a national network of food banks, one in six children in Connecticut doesn’t have enough to eat. So Cipriano has made it his goal to make sure the meals his students eat at school are as nutritious as possible.

Rebranding a program: Cipriano was brought to New Haven in July 2008 to transition the district’s foodservice program from contract management to self-operated.

“We were not satisfied with the way the foodservice was going, both from the health and wellness side of things and the financial control and vision of the department,” says Will Clark, COO for New Haven schools.

Clark says after receiving bids from other management firms, he realized the right direction was to make the program self-operated. Clark says after speaking with other Connecticut districts and school nutrition professionals, Cipriano’s name kept coming up as the person who could lead the district on its new path.

“I met with Tim when he was at Bloomfield [Public School District in Connecticut] and told him he could do all the things he was doing there at New Haven but on a macro level,” Clark says. “On the one hand we have hunger issues and on the other we have an obesity epidemic. We believe there is a connection between health, wellness and food and the classroom. Tim was on board after that conversation.”

Both Cipriano and Clark knew changing the foodservice program would not be easy. “I said I really don’t know what to expect, but we are going to make the food better and we are going to take baby steps to get there,” Cipriano says. “We don’t want to change the whole system, flip it upside down and confuse the kids.”

FoodService Director - FSD month - Timothy Cipriano - New Haven SchoolsOne of Cipriano’s first moves was switching all bread products to whole grain. Overall, Cipriano says the change went well. However, one item, a whole-grain kaiser roll, was not well received. “The kaiser roll was the only item that we switched back to a white product. The kids did not like it. You can’t change everything. I wouldn’t call it a setback; it was an understanding.”

Cipriano knows that he can’t change kids’ eating patterns overnight. “We don’t want to take the approach of, ‘this is what we are serving and you are going to eat it,’” he says. “Kids love hot dogs, so we switched our hot dogs to turkey hot dogs. We didn’t want to go crazy and eliminate everything. We wanted to make small changes.”

Many of those small changes have come from making modifications at the department’s central kitchen. Mashed potatoes and roasted potatoes are now made from fresh produce instead of canned products. The majority of the beans are now fresh. Stir-fry vegetables are cut by hand.

Cipriano says he’s trying to get back to “real food,” so he’s cutting out as much processed food as he can. Last school year, Cipriano took on chicken nuggets. The kid favorite, along with chicken patties, was eliminated from the menus. Eight-cut chicken is now purchased, which is roasted and served with fresh vegetables.

“We want real food,” Cipriano says about eliminating chicken nuggets. “You can’t go to the butcher shop and say, ‘I want chicken stars and chicken moons.’ You can’t buy a porterhouse steak that’s been stamped with a cookie cutter that looks like a snowman. That’s what we’re trying to teach kids. That’s not what food is. That’s marketing.”

Healthy on a budget: In April 2008, à la carte snacks were eliminated from all K-8 schools. Snacks were eliminated at the secondary schools this September. “All our K-8 schools and some of our larger high schools are Provision II, so the kids get free breakfast and lunch,” Cipriano says. “We’re not a convenience store. We need to focus on what we do best and that’s school meals.”

More From FoodService Director

Industry News & Opinion

Hutchinson Middle School in Hutchinson, Minn., invited students to help serve lunch in an effort to encourage their peers to try new, healthy recipes, Hutchinson Leader reports.

The students, who are part of the school’s Students in Action Club, created posters to advertise the new meal and helped serve it to students during lunch.

The school’s kitchen manager, Janet Schmidt, said that around 37 more students than normal got in line to try the meal. The school plans to have students from the club help serve lunch once every month.

Read the full story via Hutchinson...

Industry News & Opinion

In an effort to trim costs, the country’s largest senior living company laid off 100 staff members, including regional dining services directors, reports Senior Housing News .

Not all employees who were laid off will technically leave the company, Senior Housing News notes, as some will be reassigned to alternative positions. Brookdale recently posted third-quarter earnings that fell short of analysts’ expectations and that the company’s CEO called disappointing.

At the end of last year, the Brentwood, Tenn.-based company employed 53,000 workers on a full-time basis, and...

Industry News & Opinion

After receiving mixed feedback from parents, Randolph County School District in Asheboro, N.C., is inviting parents to tour the district’s kitchens and cafeterias to see how the food for school meals is made, Fox 8 reports.

School officials say that the tours, part of the district’s first Food Day for Parents, will give parents an inside look at the upkeep of the facilities, as well as enable them to sample some food and see how the district is upholding USDA guidelines.

Officials also hope that the tours will provide them with more guidance on what parents and students are...

Industry News & Opinion

After fielding complaints from parents and students, Sodexo is launching an initiative to improve dining services at Emerson College in Boston, the Berkeley Beacon reports.

The initiative will kick off this month with an event dubbed Fresh Start, marking the start of several moves aimed at improving service—including the hiring of a new executive chef, the addition of a second sous chef, and retraining current staff on food preparation and presentation.

Members of the Emerson community will also be able to share feedback through the introduction of monthly forums, as well...

FSD Resources