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

The Virginia Department of Health said it has traced a “cluster” of hepatitis A cases to frozen Egyptian strawberries used by Virginia units of a smoothie chain.

Tropical Smoothie Cafe voluntarily trashed the strawberries and switched to supplies from a different source immediately after being notified of the connection, the health department said in a statement issued Friday.

The department noted that it had traced earlier outbreaks of hepatitis A to strawberries imported from Egypt. But it warned that supplies may still be in the freezers of other foodservice operations...

Managing Your Business
business man smash computer

Foodservice directors spend a lot of time taking care of other people, whether it’s K-12 students who aren’t always eating enough at home, malnourished patients back for return visits or employees squabbling among themselves. That kind of pressure can weigh heavily—and come home from work. The Anxiety and Depression Association of America finds that 83% of men and 72% of women say stress at work carries over into their personal lives, and 50% call staff management their main culprit for workplace stress.

“Stress is very difficult in our world, and work-life balance is very much a...

Industry News & Opinion

Students at an Arkansas high school may have to take creative measures to get a meal, thanks to a school policy that prevents parents from dropping off lunches left at home.

The Catholic High School for Boys in Little Rock, Ark., last week posted a picture on Facebook of a sign that reads, “Stop. If you are dropping off your son’s forgotten lunch, books, homework, equipment, etc., please turn around and exit the building. Your son will learn to problem-solve in your absence.”

While social media opinions on the school’s rule were mixed, some commenters expressed concern that...

Industry News & Opinion

Novato Unified School District in Novato, Calif., has created a new vegetarian grab-and-go item as part of the district’s Meatless Monday initiative, marinij.com reports .

The Fiesta Rice and Bean Shaker, which is served in disposable cups, contains rice, corn, black beans, taco seasoning, corn tortilla chips and romaine lettuce topped with an optional salsa and ranch dressing. It’s also customizable, as students are able to select which ingredients they’d like to include.

The vegetarian shaker is made using produce from a nearby organic garden. Sofie Garcia, an employee in...

FSD Resources