Interview with Postville Food Service Director, Laurie SmithPosted: March 28, 2012
Recently, Elizabeth Makarewicz, the FFI Resource Contact, sat down with Postville food service director Laurie Smith to gain insight on what it's like to feed a school district of 550 students. In her first year as director, Laurie has brought some positive changes to Postville's school lunch and breakfast. With a focus on ordering fresh and local produce as much as possible, Laurie is taking the right steps to ensure the healthy choice is the easy choice for Postville students.
RC: What are your job responsibilities?
LS: I oversee the kitchen staff and order all the food. I help prepare the food as well, do a lot of paperwork, and market the fresh fruit and vegetable program. It is also my responsibility to oversee special functions like chili suppers, or drama dinners. I am also the school wellness team chair. It's a nice blend of paperwork, office management/prepping and cooking!
RC: What's the most rewarding part of your work?
LS: Kids, especially, but when teachers or faculty say "Oh, lunch was really good!", Nice changes!", and "The jicama was awesome!" I hear a lot of comments from kids when something different comes along and they like it!
RC: What's the biggest challenge?
LS: Calculating to make sure we have enough food. One day for our Christmas meal, 2nd grade also had a manners meal so they had their parents come too. Not all of the parents signed up ahead of time, but I needed to plan ahead. We ended up having enough food, but it was stressful! Also, I try to use fresh or frozen over canned stuff, but sometimes I have to compromise. I try to keep an open mind and use my good communication skills!
RC: Do you have a favorite dish to serve/make at school?
LS: My favorite might not be what the kids like! This year I've tried turkey dressing sandwiches, and a couple new casseroles, but kids just aren't into casseroles. I do like coming up with different salads for the salad bar, like Texas caviar and using different fresh fruits and vegetables.
RC: You've used a lot of local foods this school year (great job!), what are the benefits?
LS: I feel bad because nothing's in season right now! I order all our local food from GROWNLocally. At the beginning of the year, I wrote all the produce and vegetables that I could possibly use, and gave a price, and [the distributor] had to meet me at that price. I sent it to GROWN Locally, Hawkeye, and Jovilette farms. That farm visit I did with GROWN Locally really pulled things together for me! These extra things I do make my job easier. And now everyone knows me! I felt like everywhere I went, people say, oh, I've heard about you! That was very inviting. I really enjoy meeting all these people.
RC: Do you work with the school gardeners here in Postville?
LS: Yes! They bring in their list, and I use whatever they bring me! It's a little extra work, but it is good. And I always put a little note card out saying it's from the garden. They did ask me what I would like. I asked for more Chinese cabbage, since they'd had me sample that before and I liked it.
RC: What are some things that would make your job easier?
LS: Space! I am getting another cooler, so that'll be nice. Staff-wise, I'm good. Everybody really helps each other. Education is always accepted, for constant learning. I do lots of webinars, and take advantage of any opportunity that comes along, even when it's not required. Also, new ideas and recipes! I try to mix things up.
RC: You've done a lot with the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Snack Program, and trying new foods in the cafeteria...are students receptive to trying new things?
LS: For testing week, we're doing it every day to get them ready for their test! They don't really like kohlrabi (some do, and some don't), but they really liked the rainbow carrots! Other favorites include cucumbers, clementines, and turnips.
RC: Wow! Turnips. That's a surprise. Do you have advice for encouraging students to try new foods?
LS: Even though you don't get it at home, try it! You might like it. Tell your family that you like it. Live a little! Healthy food makes you feel better. If students don't like it, try serving it in a different way.
RC: Why is good nutrition important, in your opinion?
LS: It makes your brain think more easily, and you're more awake, and sharp in life!
Photo: Laurie Smith (left) prepares tomatoes for ratatouille.