New ovens offer healthier school lunch

Published 10:58 am Friday, August 5, 2016

Two local schools are going to be a little bit healthier this school year.

Both Warrenton and South Park elementary schools have thrown out the old deep fat fryers and installed new combination oven steamers over the summer. The combination oven steamers, or combi ovens, offer a number of benefits for the students because they are healthier, cleaner and faster.

“They actually steam and bake at a high temperature rate, which allows us to get the same end result with a food product as if you put it in a deep fryer but 10 times more healthy,” said Laura Bounds, child nutrition director for the Vicksburg Warren School District.

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In addition to the food being cooked in a healthier process, she said the ovens are cleaner for the environment. The old fryers that were taken out of the schools haven’t been used in about six years.

Easter Jackson, cafeteria manager at Warrenton, said quality food is cooked in the new ovens and she expects the students will like the taste.

“Our child nutrition staff is proud of this new equipment,” Jackson said. “Our baked foods are crisp on the outside and moist on the inside.”

Bounds said there isn’t any difference in the taste of the food even though it is cooked differently.

“You can’t tell the difference in a French fry cooked in a combi oven and a deep fryer,” she said.

The cafeteria workers can upload the day’s menu to the oven and set cooking times. This simple detail allows the nutrition technicians to start prepping other food items, which in turn gets the meal prepared quicker and the students through the line faster.

“It allows us to move faster within the kitchen and on the serving line to get that product out to the students in a more timely manner,” Bounds said.

The combi ovens were able to be installed in the schools because of a 2016 Nutrition Integrity grant awarded to the district from the Mississippi Department of Education Office of Child Nutrition and The Bower Foundation.

The district applied for the grant worth $18,000 per school.

“We did the same integrity grant several years ago, I think it was back in 2012, for Vicksburg High and one of the other schools as well,” Bounds said. “Every couple years we are allowed to reapply. It’s an awarded grant that is allowing us to upgrade these smaller, older kitchens.”

All but four schools in the school district, Redwood, Academy of Innovation, Bovina and Bowmar, have installed combi ovens. Those four schools have not received combi ovens because the cafeterias are not equipped to handle the wattage needed to power them.

Bounds hopes the district will receive the same grant again in the coming years to update these four facilities to accommodate new ovens.