Taher Food Service Offers Healthy Foods In Scottsbluff Schools!

JEFF SMITH Staff Reporter jsmith@starherald.com

Taher Inc. was chosen as the food service provider in Gering and Scottsbluff last spring. The new food service in the local school districts have been enjoyed by many students, teachers and administrators, so far, according to school officials.

Healthy Foods In Scottsbluff Schools!

There are several food offerings at the schools in Scottsbluff. There are five entrées that students at the high school can choose from, three entrées at Bluffs Middle School and two entrées that are available at the elementary schools.

Lavon Hood, chief financial officer of Scottsbluff Public Schools, said that the main difference in this year and previous years is more options at the schools. Meals can also able be made at the elementary schools instead of being transported from the high school. Mike Penne, the interim food services director interim director at Scottsbluff Public Schools, said there have been challenges but the food quality is more up to the standards of USDA than it has been in the past.

“It’s getting better. We are just lacking help and kids are getting used to the new system,” said Penne.

There were mixed feelings by some of the students who felt that there might not be as many options as before. According to sophomore Conner Muhr, there are several foods that are no longer available.

Jeff Smith/Star-Herald.- Left to right, Eli De Los Santos, Troy Stambaugh, and Paul Panduro enjoy their lunch on Aug. 31 at Scottsbluff High School. A lot of students have decided to stay on campus and eat lunch due to the new services of Taher Inc.

“There are things that I used to get a lot like fries, potato wedges and ice cream,” said Muhr.
Another student, Eli De Los Santos, liked the new lunch program.

“I like how we have our own chef now who makes Chinese food. We also get to pick our own food now, like fruits and vegetables,” said De Los Santos.

All of the schools in Scottsbluff now have a fresh fruit and vegetable bar. According to students, this is one of the things that they like about the new food service.

“This is about their health, providing healthy options,” said Hood.

Taher is also the new food service provider for Gering Public Schools and at a school board meeting on Aug. 17 there was a presentation by Tom Johnson, district manager for Taher. He gave an overview of the company and promoted the different aspects of the food company.

Jeff Smith/Star-Herald.- Sophomore Elijah Salinas gets some lettuce at the fruits and vegetable bar at lunch on Aug. 31. A fresh fruit and vegetable bar was a new installment of the Taher corporation.

“We don’t have a cookie-cutter approach. We work with each individual school district to customize their food program,” said Johnson.

They have a chef-based program and work on providing fresh ingredients for the different food offerings. They have a focus on nutrition through the Food-4-Life program and putting the nutritional analyses online. Food-4-Life looks at four different stages of life, from toddlers to senior citizens, which Taher is committed to serving. There are also four food groups included in Food-4-life which are grains, proteins, fruits and vegetables.

The Food-4-Life initiative promotes local foods and less processed foods that contain no MSG or high-fructose corn syrup. There are other guidelines in the initiative, such as rotating the different food items so there is no repeat menu through the month. There will be a Harvest of the Month program which will display information about a featured fruit, vegetable and herb, grain, spice, or legume in recipes created by Taher’s team of chefs.

There are also educational flyers that encourage students to try new foods. The flyers provide the recipe for the food item and the different ingredients that are in it.

“This is provided so children are excited about what they’re actually trying,” said Johnson.

Chefs taste test recipes and implement different recipes at the schools that may be a tradition at the school districts. Penne said that the only one that he is aware of so far is the cinnamon rolls recipe.

“These recipes are analyzed to make sure they meet federal guidelines,” said Penne.

Taher is in the process of implementing a Farm to School program. Through the Farm to School program, there will be more of an attempt to work with local farmers to promote local produce. Taher also wants to work with a local co-op or other organizations to advocate for the sustainability of local farming practices. Taher is open to the idea of having local farmers visit the cafeteria and are exploring ideas to create awareness of where the food comes from. Johnson said it’s not unusual for farmers to provide meat to use for some of the meals that are served at the schools.

Jeff Smith/Star-Herald.- Jan Cortinas, head baker at Scottsbluff High School, helps Elijah Salinas with the payment of his lunch. Nate Blackos patiently waits as other students and teachers line up in the cafeteria.

Jeff Smith/Star-Herald.-
Jan Cortinas, head baker at Scottsbluff High School, helps Elijah Salinas with the payment of his lunch. Nate Blackos patiently waits as other students and teachers line up in the cafeteria.

Some board members introduced the idea for beef donations for the chefs to use in the meals. Board member B.J. Peters said that he thinks the school districts in Bridgeport and Bayard receive all of their beef through donation for use in the schools.

There are also some new employees in the district that have came along with the different food choices. Taher has 2,600 employees in 13 states. Penne and the interim head chef, Rodney Barth, are among the new staff members. There will also be a new chef that will start next Tuesday in Scottsbluff. There are over 30 staff members in Scottsbluff. Gering has 14 employees. Gering and Scottsbluff only had to replace three food service employees although there are more that can be hired.

Penne was previously a food services director in South Sioux City Public Schools. He said there were over 3,500 students in that school district. Barth also came from a larger school district in Elkhorn, Nebraska, that served around 4,000 students.

Taher also works with the staff on a monthly basis. This ensures that the work of any new programs is happening, assesses the needs of hands-on training and keeps safety up-to-date. Taher sets goals with the staff and there are also regional meetings with the different food directors in the region so that there could be more of an understanding of what needs to be worked on in the future.