Not many people would consider raw broccoli their favorite food, but the good news is Shelina McClain has a secret ingredient for this nutritious food – and so many others. The secret ingredient is having the right kitchen equipment, which ensures healthy and delicious meals every time!
As the nutrition director at Graves County Schools in southwest Kentucky, McClain’s job is not an easy one. Thousands of students in the district rely on her team of school nutrition professionals to provide healthy and nutritious meals each school day. “Every day, I strive to show kids foods that instill healthy eating habits and give them the knowledge to live healthier lives,” said McClain.
Grave County School District includes eight schools with varying levels of modern kitchen equipment, making it difficult for school nutrition professionals to create consistent, tasty recipes that meet high nutrition standards when every kitchen has different capabilities according to McClain. Fortunately, in 2023, USDA awarded National School Lunch Equipment Assistance Grants to Graves County School District, which allowed them to upgrade kitchen ovens that had been in use for over 15 years. The new combi ovens are larger, cook faster, and retain more flavor by maintaining an even temperature throughout the oven and locking more moisture into the food.
“Since cooking times are shorter with the new combi ovens, the school nutrition staff have more time to spend with students to discuss menu preferences,” said McClain. “We are using this feedback to improve our meals and menus even more!”
Graves County Schools also participates in the Community Eligibility Provision, which allows schools and school districts in low-income areas to serve meals at no cost to all students. Most students in the district rely on school breakfast and lunch for a significant portion of their daily nutritional needs.
Many other school districts across the country have greatly benefited from the National School Lunch Program Equipment Assistance Grants to improve their meal service by purchasing efficient kitchen equipment such as ovens, refrigeration and freezer units, convection steamers, and serving lines for their students.
"Our students have been offered more opportunities to try new foods, and as a result, they are reaching for different types of food more often, that’s a major win,” said McClain.