As schools across Mississippi get ready to welcome students back to the halls of academics, some of the most weighted prep work is happening through men and women in hair nets and rubber gloves.
Like so many school cafeterias across the state, the fires are burning and the knifes are sharpened at Clinton Park Elementary.
"Having this hands on cooking lab allows our staff to learn culinary techniques as well as nutrition principles," said child nutrition supervisor with the Clinton School District, Keba Laird.
This comes as new meal pattern guidelines are being served up from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. School districts are now required to serve more fruits, vegetables and whole grains and use less sodium and fatty ingredients. Laird, along with Chef Barry Karrh, are helping to guide workers as they alter recipes and menu selections.
"A lot of the regulations that have been passed, we were already ahead of the game, so the transition was a little bit easier for us," said Laird.
"We want to make sure it's good and healthy and nutritious for our kids," said child nutrition manager with the Clinton School District, Marquissia Mack.
That doesn't come without a challenge. Not only do the meals need to be more healthy and nutritious, they'll also need to please the unforgiving taste buds of those who will be eating them.
"Our goal is to provide foods that are high quality, that are nutritious and attractive but also favorable," said Laird.
"Our students, they're not use to a lot of fruits and vegetables and grains," said Mack.
Changes may be tough to chew on at first, but they're here to stay. Given the state's child obesity and health rankings, Laird says those changes will benefit students.
"It will give them greater access to fruits and vegetables that they may not have at home. It also ensures that they're meeting their RDAs, recommended dietary allowance for their nutritional needs," said Laird.
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