Making the Case for Upgrading School Food Preparation at "Amazing" Fowler High School Kitchen

Dec 7, 2017

The kitchen at Syracuse’s Fowler High School was in the spotlight Thursday as the president of a national nutrition organization stopped by to gather information about the dire need for increased funding for food service equipment.  Fowler appears to be ahead of the curve when it comes to preparing healthy options for students.

School lunch manager at Fowler Chris Jones stands in front of a flash freezer. It can cool food from 160 degrees to 30 degrees within 30 minutes, and fully frozen in 45 minutes.
Credit Scott Willis / WAER News

School lunch manager Chris Jones shows off a large production area as part of a tour of the busy kitchen.  It’s filled with everything you’d need to make meals for up to seven thousand students…500 at fowler..and the rest at 13 other city schools.  Donna Martin is president of the academy of nutrition and dietetics…and is also the school nutrition director for a district in Georgia.

"What I'm seeing here is amazing.  They have wonderful equipment.  The choices the kids get, the hot meals, the beautiful salads, the beautiful sandwiches.  It's so exciting to see the kids have this opporunity to have a healthy, nutritious lunch, and a healthy breakfast, too.  So these kids come to school prepared for these teachers and ready to learn."  

Rachel Murphy is director of food and nutrition services for Syracuse City Schools. 

"They're coming in, they're hungry.  They don't come from a home where food is necessarily available in the way, shape, and form we think it is.  The students come here looking to be nourished, and they're looking to be fed breakfast, lunch, snack, sometimes supper.  When they go home, those options just aren't there because the resources aren't there."

She says while Fowler has a great space and equipment, that’s not the case elsewhere in the district, let alone the nation.  Donna Martin says changing palates, along with nutrition guidelines and food safety regulations have forced changes in the kitchen that most districts just can’t afford.  Gone are the days of cheap and quick fryers.  

Racks hold numerous food preparation containers.
Credit Scott Willis / WAER News

"Now we're baking everything.  We're not frying anything.  So we need these big ovens that are very expensive.  We're also trying to do many more salads, we need much more cooler space, plus mixers and cutters to chop up the salads.  The requirements are totally changing, and the funding is not there."

She says they’re heading to an advocacy day next week in Washington to push for additional funding.  There's currently a $25 million appropriation bill in the House, and a $30 million bill in the Senate, which Martin says is a drop in the bucket considering the need.  She says that money could easily be spent in just one district.  Nutrition professionals like herself, plus superintendents and equipment representatives will present video from the visit to Fowler and other schools to show Congress just what can be done if you have the right equipment...and in kitchens that don't.