Ten school nutrition assistant level staff members at Vacaville Unified School District, in Vacaville, Calif. are getting the chance to grow their skills through a year-long training course.
Named Lunch Thyme University, the training is being led by Chef and Assistant Director Richie Wilim, who was inspired to create the course after realizing that while school nutrition professionals are performing similar tasks and are held to the same standards as their peers in the restaurant industry, they often don’t receive the same training or opportunities to grow their skill set.
“There’s this big missing piece to me,” says Wilim, who worked in restaurants prior to school nutrition. “This is something I’ve always been passionate about.”
Wilim decided to make the training program his capstone project for the Chef Ann Foundation’s Healthy School Food Pathway (HSFP) fellowship, a 12-month long program where fellows learn how to operate a school nutrition program centered around scratch-made cooking.
Over the next 12 months, Wilim will guide his staff as they work through the training program and learn new skills.
As part of the program, participants receive several resources to help them as they work through the course including a kitchen notebook and pen set and an educational cookbook.
“We’re also outfitting them with their own knife sets,” says Wilim.
The sets will come in handy since knife skills are one of the first things staff learn as part of the training along with other cooking basics like mise en place.
“We’re going to start at the basics,” says Wilim.
Later on, participants will expand their skillset to include things like flavor development, menu planning and more.
At the end of each quarter, participants will complete a competency test where they will illustrate what they’ve learned over the past couple of months. Examples of the tests include preparing their best (existing) meal from scratch and creating a new recipe from scratch.
The training culminates with a final competency test where participants will have to create, price out and cook their own school nutrition-approved dish.
Looking toward the future
Wilim is excited to give his staff an opportunity to grow their skillset and is thankful for his participating in HSFP, since it provided a way for him to see how other school nutrition programs operate.
“It was a good way to see what we were doing a really good job at and what we were missing,” he says.
As Lunch Thyme University continues to grow, Wilim hopes that he can even have some of his students visit other districts who were involved with HSFP to learn more skills and is looking forward to finding ways to connect further with his fellow HSFP fellows in the future.
“The program was amazing. We could bounce ideas off one another and it’s been really cool,” he says. “We’re only better with each other.”