Operations

How Madison Metropolitan School District is making the leap into scratch-made meals

The district will be experimenting with meals made from scratch early next year as part of a pilot program.
Roasted chicken thigh with three sisters rice
A roasted chicken thigh with three sisters rice will be one of the scratch-made menu items served to students. | Photo courtesy of Timothy Hughes for Madison Magazine

Madison Metropolitan School District (MMSD) is embarking on a journey to incorporate more scratch-made meals into its menu.  

The district will launch a scratch-made meals pilot early next year at one of its elementary schools to learn best practices on how to prepare and serve meals made in-house. 

Food Service Director Josh Perkins has wanted to transition away from prepackaged meals since he started at the district last year. Since MMSD is made up of 52 schools, he believes a pilot will be a good way to test the waters before rolling out scratch-made meals to the district at-large. 

“It’s imperative that we start to consider a responsible plan to establish what our model would be, and do some thorough testing and training with the staff, both to work out planning and bugs on our side before we have a more substantial rollout, but also as well to illustrate to the community what the vision is for the program in a tangible way,” he says.  

The district will pilot the meals at Nuestro Mundo Community School starting in January, and  from there, organize its next steps forward to incorporate more meals made on-site to additional schools. 

Choosing the pilot school 

Nuestro Mundo was chosen for the pilot due to its history with serving scratch-made meals. Over the past several years leading up to the pandemic, it had offered meals from scratch in a limited capacity. 

The school recently moved buildings and Nuestro Mundo Principal Josh Forehand was keen on continuing to provide meals made in-house. 

“It's very important to us to continue to provide that quality of food to our students,” he says. 

For Perkins, having a good relationship with Forehand was also one of the main reasons why he felt that Nuestro Mundo would be a good school for the pilot.  

“The partnership here is going to be the glue that makes this work,” he says. “Programs of this nature where there's a really substantial change requires a strong partnership between nutrition and leadership at the school level. It's not something that can happen in a vacuum.”

Slow and steady 

In January, the two nutrition employees working at the school will receive training on how to prepare the new recipes. Both team members have been on board with transitioning to serving more scratch-made meals since the pilot was first announced, Perkins notes. 

“It was really clear that they're very interested in bringing the improved cooking to this community, he says. 

The staff have also been instrumental in providing Perkins with feedback and suggestions on how to make the pilot rollout as smooth as possible, he says. For example, they noted that since younger students have been used to getting food in enclosed tray packs, the team will need to make sure they’re being served safely when they transition to meals made from scratch. 

To make sure that the launch of the pilot goes smoothly, it will be starting out slowly. 

“We're definitely prioritizing quality over quantity,” says Perkins. “We don't want to roll out too fast.”

The team will begin serving the new dishes at the start of the new year. At the beginning, the new menu items will only be served a couple days a week and will increase in frequency as the school year continues. 

The recipes will also be simple and center around ingredients like roasted vegetables, potatoes and rice. 

“Coming up with a few good seasoned rice recipes allows a really broad spectrum of dishes because every cuisine in the world has rice as one of the starches that acts as a backbone for other things,” says Perkins. 

Perkins has also been working with University of Wisconsin Associate Professor Dr. Jennifer Gaddis to develop some recipes, including a slow roasted chicken thigh with three sisters rice that will also likely end up on the menu.

Nutrition staff and Nuestro Mundo
Nutrition employees Ana Paula Johnson-Strader and Agustina Perez Gomez will be serving scratch-made meals as part of the pilot. Photo courtesy of Madison Metropolitan School District

Analyzing the results 

Throughout the initial pilot phase, Perkins and Forehand will be involved with an ongoing communications plan which will allow them to receive feedback from the community on the new recipes and solicit dishes that they would like to see added to the menu. 

At the end of the school year, they will analyze the data they collected and share it with the district’s Board of Education. From there, they’ll decide the best way forward. 

Perkins is excited to begin bringing more scratch-made dishes to students’ plates. Forehand, too, is looking forward to having Nuestro play a major role in transforming the district’s nutrition program. 

“I feel like I can I can speak on behalf of all of our staff, our food services staff included, that we're really excited to be a part of this and very grateful to have this opportunity to serve not only our families and our students this way, but also the school district as a whole by serving in this pilot capacity,” says Forehand.