The executive chef for Riverside Unified School District’s nutrition services department is heading to Washington, D.C., today for a meeting at the White House.
Chef Ryan Douglas was invited join other chefs from some of the nation’s largest school districts on the White House lawn Friday as part of first lady Michelle Obama’s campaign to fight childhood obesity, district officials said.
Douglas said he’s looking forward to networking with some of the nation’s top chefs who work in schools.
“When we can throw ideas off our peers, our ability to provide service for students grows astronomically,” Douglas said Wednesday.
Riverside’s Farmers’ Market Salad Bar program, which Douglas called the largest in the nation, drew the attention of the U.S. Department of Agriculture as it celebrated its fifth anniversary in April. Riverside elementary schools’ salad bars are stocked with fruits and vegetables from school gardens and local farmers.
Students say the fresh healthy offerings taste better. USDA officials said in April they want to learn from Riverside and spread such programs to other districts.
Douglas said strawberries and salads are kids’ favorites and the best part of his job is seeing their faces when they eat and enjoy the food he and his team prepared.
In his two years with the school district, he also has developed signature salads and sandwiches for teachers and school administrators. The next step is to add revised salad and sandwich offerings for middle and high school students’ palates.
Instead of the adult version of Summer Berry Salad — with feta cheese, jicama, strawberries, seasonal berries on a bed of mixed greens with a pineapple-mango vinaigrette — Douglas wants to develop recipes for a cranberry walnut chicken salad for adolescents. The recipes must conform to state nutritional regulations for school lunches and cost constraints. A chicken Caesar salad is another recipe Douglas said he wants for secondary schools. Then dieticians will evaluate each recipe for nutritional content.
“It’s going to be really good and really fun,” he said. “The reward you get when you see the kids faces, the ‘wow!’ that’s the best part.”
As executive chef, Douglas said his job is then to train the nutrition services staff. They work as a team, and he credited the vision of Nutrition Services Director Rodney Taylor, who brought the farmers market salads to Riverside schools.
Riverside schools solicit students’ input about food, Douglas said.
“They like to hear from their children about what they like and what they don’t like,” Douglas said. “The kids just really love the salad bars,” which is why he wants his next effort to add healthy fare at middle and high schools.
Reach Dayna Straehley at 951- 368-9455 or dstraehley@PE.com