Nitty gritty, how to serve fish at lunch

Bethel School District, close to Eugene, is currently buying produce from nine local farmers, and has developed a small database of local farmers who are interested in selling to schools.  Jennie Kolpak is their Nutrition Services Director. Oregon Dept of Ed’s Rick Sherman suggested I talk to her about fish because she not only is another great Farm to School advocate, but she also runs a self-operated district. That way I have her perspective (operating her own district) and Rick’s (that of the food services management company.

Just as with Rick, if Jennie bought Oregon fish, it would have to be through a competitive purchase and she would have to get 3 bids. She could include a local vendor as 1 of 3 and she could specify by asking for a specific geographical preference.  It is important that she ensures all companies have an equal opportunity to bid for federal funds. Geographical preference lets her award extra points to partially ask for a specific region. 51% of her awarded points have to be based on price.

I explained that an inexpensive option for Oregon fish is whiting and asked how she could incorporate that. If she wanted to use whiting, Jennie would do just as she explained, and get three quotes. This could come directly from a fisherman or from a distributor but she couldn’t just receive a whole fish. A processor would have to freeze fillets for her.

In the past, she has tried fish tacos with breaded pollock for lunch. I understand pollock is a very similar texture to whiting. Unfortunately, it wasn’t a good sell at the time she served it; the kids didn’t like it. She might try again, serving naked fish, non-breaded.  A pre-cooked fillet would be best for her to use. She has served salmon fillets in the past which went okay. But she can no longer afford that now.  When she served salmon, she purchased it from Trident. Most popular among fish options at lunch is the baked fish and chips. Whatever she uses, the product needs to count as 2 ounces of meat or meat alternative. She suggested I check out the Food Buying Guide from USDA to know how to credit fish as 2 ounces of meat/meat alternate. Each protein product she serves has a different crediting amount to get to those 2 ounces (lentils, ground beef, chicken, seafood would all be their own credit amount). For seafood, 2 oz of cooked fish, per student is one portion. In other words, those 2 oz count for the lunch meat/meat alternative that she must provide.

When I look for a whiting fillet that she might use, I asked if fish are ever certified safe such as produce is recommended to be GAP (Good Agricultural Practices) certified for many districts.  She hasn’t heard of a certifying body, but says whoever processes the fish would have to follow HACCP and be licensed.  One way or another, she has to know she is purchasing from safe and reliable sources.

I told her about Alaska’s Fish to School program that often relies on donated product. Can your district accept donations? ” We never have, but it is legal.” If a processor donated salmon fillets, she’d be delighted.

How do you gauge kids’ preference? Jennie usually tries it at the high school to get feedback.  She’d love to help test items.  Yahoo!

Read more on USDA’s profile of Jennie’s program at Bethel!

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