Timothy Cipriano: Taking the Lead
Cipriano reduced the number of entrée options to one to focus on a high-quality product, to save money by buying in bulk and to reduce waste. He is working to revamp high school service to include concepts like Asian, barbecue and subs to increase the number of offerings for high school students.
Even with one entrée item offered daily, Cipriano is introducing the students to new meals. “We did shepherd’s pie on St. Patrick’s Day and the kids didn’t like it,” Cipriano says. “They didn’t understand it. We’ll try it again. We want these kids to adapt to different tastes and different kinds of foods.”
Commodity products are another area Cipriano has focused on. Cipriano, who is known as the “local food dude,” is an advocate for using fresh, local produce whenever possible. Last year, he estimates that 12%, or 60,000 pounds, of produce served was from a local source. Cipriano also knows he has to take advantage of commodity products to keep costs down, so he is using those products in creative ways. One example is canned apricots, which were used to make a sweet and sour sauce.
Cipriano also has partnered with the Sound School, a New Haven high school that has an aquaculture and agriculture component. Using basil grown and harvested by students, Cipriano made a pesto chicken that was served at each of the 46 schools.
Other changes that focus on healthy dining include eliminating chocolate milk and serving cereals that have nine grams of sugar or less per serving.
Reaching out: Cipriano’s work doesn’t end when the students leave the cafeteria. “We are on the front lines of hunger,” Cipriano says. “There are children in our schools who rely on New Haven School Food as their only nutrition of the day and that saddens me.”
Because Cipriano is so passionate about feeding hungry children, he has become involved in many projects on the local and national level. In conjunction with Share Our Strength, a national organization that focuses on eliminating childhood hunger, Cipriano has helped organize Taste of the Nation New Haven, a fundraising event that raised $60,000 this year to help with anti-hunger campaigns in the city.
Operation Front Line is another Share Our Strength project Cipriano is involved with. Operation Front Line is a nutrition education program that teaches families how to prepare healthy meals on a limited budget. Cipriano is working to get these programs in his schools that serve low-income families.
Cipriano also was involved in developing Chefs Move to Schools, part of Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move Campaign (see Five Questions for: Timothy Cipriano at foodservicedirector.com). Cipriano hopes to implement the initiative in his district by bringing in New Haven chefs to do cooking demonstrations with the students.
Cipriano also is working on expanding the district’s school gardens. There are currently several school gardens, none of which is large enough to sustain the produce needs of the school where it is located. At Barnard Environmental Studies Interdistrict Magnet School, the students help plant and tend a school garden that supplies some produce for the cafeteria. The garden’s main purpose is as an educational tool for the students.
Cipriano hopes to create a larger district farm that would be used to as a teaching tool. “We’ll try coconuts and pineapples. We know they’re not going to grow, but it’s an educational experience to let the kids understand why they don’t grow in Connecticut,” Cipriano says.
For someone who never thought about school foodservice as a career, Cipriano takes every opportunity to extend his department’s reach. “I was a chef working at restaurants,” Cipriano says about his life before child nutrition. “Did I ever think I would be a bald ‘lunch lady?’ Never. But I love it. It’s the best job I’ve ever had. All bets are off. Everything is on the table.”
“Every year since Tim has been here, we’ve increased the number of meals served each year and we have decreased our cost of food every year,” Clark says. “These two things would have been unimaginable in the program we had before. We’ve gone from corporate, processed food to the White House in two years. Tim has a dogged persistence in focusing on healthy food and getting everyone excited about what we can do in the cafeteria and how we can connect what we do in the cafeteria to the classroom.”