HAMMOND | Hammond elementary school students enjoyed special culinary creations Friday from visiting chef Cyndie Story.
The fresh, nutritious lunches were part of a weeklong training in preparation for the new flare Hammond schools' menus will take on next year.
Story is a registered dietician and has been a school food service consultant for 20 years. She has visited hundreds of schools across the nation and President Barack Obama awarded her with a Champion of Change Award in 2011.
Julie Boettger, director of food and nutrition for the School City of Hammond, invited Story to not only give the students a treat, but to improve the school kitchens and brush up on staff skills.
"The initiatives we're undertaking is not only to improve food quality," Boettger said, "but to incorporate more fresh foods in our cooking and implement better processes that are more efficient and make the food more appealing to the kids."
Story made signature dishes for students at Harding, Jefferson, Irving, Lincoln and Wallace elementary schools. She whipped up fruit salsa, Hawaiian burgers, breakfast pizza, orange basil carrots and Super Yum Green Salad using all fresh ingredients.
Denise Eisman, principal of Jefferson Elementary, said students loved the Hawaiian burger. One student liked the dish so much, he asked Story for the recipe and gave a written copy to Eisman the next day.
During her visits, Story has had many compliments from students. One student gave her an "A+" for her cooking.
The goal is to expose children to new, nutritious foods, Boettger said. Story said to never make decisions as to what a child will or will not eat.
"As adults we don't have their taste buds, children have different palates," Story said. "You have to let the children try the food and decide for themselves."
Story avoided the word "healthy," which might be unappealing to children, and told them the benefits instead. When serving the basil carrots, she said carrots will give the students night vision.
Story worked on organizing the schools' kitchens and making lists of kitchen tools the staff needs, too. However, she didn't stay behind the scenes in her visits. She also served the meals to the children and visited them at their lunch tables.
She said she considers herself an "edu-tainer," where she not only encouraged healthy eating but laughter.
"Education and entertainment must go together," Story said, quoting Walt Disney.
This program is the beginning of a change that Hammond schools will make to their menus. Boettger said Story and her team of consulting chefs will help make a set of new items that will be signature dishes exclusive to Hammond schools for next year.
The aim is to make the food healthier, Boettger said, but not at the expense of the children enjoying the it.
Story said she wants parents to follow suit so students can get similar, nutritious foods at school and at home.
"It's not just a restaurant that happens to be in a school- it serves a higher purpose," Boettger said. "That's why healthy food is so important."