Scratch cooking: A step-by-step recipe for success

Cooking from scratch has regained favor among foodservice operators in the K-12 segment and continues to expand in schools across the country.

The goal for operators implementing scratch-based cooking is generally two-fold, as they seek both to meet federal nutrition standards and to satisfy the increasingly sophisticated taste preferences of their guests.

Transitioning from a menu of mostly premade foods to a menu of dishes that are made primarily from scratch is no easy feat, however. Operators need to have the right equipment and must invest in worker training, often under the constraint of tight budgets.

As a result, many operators have shifted incrementally toward scratch-based cooking, gradually incorporating more and more made-on-site items into their menus over time. Many are finding that a hybrid menu of scratch, premade and partially prepared dishes allows them to reap some of the advantages of offering freshly prepared foods while retaining some of the efficiencies of using premade ingredients.

For example, at Plymouth School District in Plymouth, Wis., district chef Caren Johnson has begun making some sauces and condiments from scratch and adding “speed-scratch” entrée dishes.

“We started taking an ingredient like popcorn chicken and then incorporating it into things like a mashed potato casserole, where we made our own mashed potatoes,” she recently told Foodservice Director.

In many K-12 accounts, the transition to scratch cooking has involved hiring chefs with restaurant backgrounds to oversee the menus, often in partnership with dietitians. Using centralized kitchens for the scratch-made ingredients is another strategy that some school districts use to minimize the investment in staff and equipment.

Recipe inspiration

Operators seeking to follow the path toward scratch cooking can find inspiration in Tyson’s Recipe Idea Book, which includes items such as Crispy Chicken Street Tacos, made with Tyson Chicken Taco Meat; Hot ’N Spicy Boneless Wings with Seasoned Ranch Dipping Sauce, an easy-to-assemble recipe that uses Tyson Whole Grain Breaded Hot ’N Spicy BNLS Wings; and The Double Play, which features a grilled chicken filet (Tyson Grilled Made with Whole Muscle Filet).

Opportunities also abound for operators to offer “build-your-own” stations featuring a choice of proteins, in which the efficiencies of precooked proteins are combined with the freshness and customization that a made-to-order service line provides. These could include build-your-own ramen stations, for example, featuring options such as precooked chicken, beef or pork products from Tyson, along with a choice of vegetable add-ins.

Similarly, build-your-own grain-based or salad greens-based bowls could also come with a choice of proteins flavored in a variety of ways to create an ethnic or regional flare.

Build-your-own taco stations could also offer a range of protein options that students could choose from, including chicken, beef or pork, each prepared in various ways — perhaps alternating pork in a tacos al pastor recipe one week with a traditional pulled pork carnitas recipe another week.

Converting to scratch-based cooking in K-12 foodservice facilities can be a big undertaking that is best implemented in a step-by-step process. Combining scratch-made and premade ingredients allows operators to combine the benefits of both preparation methods as they increasingly transition to scratch-made kitchens.

This post is sponsored by Tyson Foods, Inc.