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Spring ISD Child Nutrition Cooking Up Great Things for 2019-20 School Year

Spring ISD Chef Gerry UpdeGraff prepares ingredients while testing a new recipe in the kitchen at the district’s Child Nutrition and Training Center
Spring ISD Chef Gerry UpdeGraff prepares ingredients while testing a new recipe in the kitchen at the district’s Child Nutrition and Training Center.

HOUSTON - July 18, 2019 - Spring ISD’s Child Nutrition Department is kicking off the new school year with even more fresh ingredients, fresh recipes, and fresh faces in the kitchen, including one of the department’s newer members, Chef Gerry UpdeGraff, who joined the district late last year as Spring ISD’s first full-time on-staff chef.

“We’re really excited to announce that our dietitian is now joined by a trained chef,” said Director of Child Nutrition Shelly Copeland. “They’ve been working closely together to develop kid-friendly menu items that our students actually enjoy.”

In addition to helping run the Child Nutrition Express Grill and overseeing the district’s catering operations, UpdeGraff has been working together with Spring ISD Nutrition Coordinator Jennifer Fasano to develop meals and menu options to delight and nourish students in the 2019-20 school year.

“I think it was just a natural step in innovation for our department,” Fasano said of the addition of a full-time Child Nutrition chef. “We’re always looking at how to elevate the items that we’re serving, looking at how to create new things and new experiences for our students.”

UpdeGraff’s first job as a cook – he found the listing in the local want ads – came when he himself was still a young high school student. Following graduation, he spent a six-year stint in the U.S. Navy before trading his sailor’s blue and gold for the crisp white of a chef’s jacket and enrolling in culinary school. He went on to work as a professional chef in kitchens from Atlanta to Albuquerque to Asheville, North Carolina, before finally settling with his family in the Houston area, where he has gone on to hold roles at Minute Maid Park and Houston ISD. He says he welcomed the move to Spring ISD, where he’s had the chance to innovate as a chef while making an impact on student health and nutrition.

“I feel like I’m in the right spot,” UpdeGraff said. “It’s a great partnership, and it’s all about feeding the kids.”

UpdeGraff and Fasano gathered student feedback on all of the new menu items considered for 2019-20. Among those selected, elementary students will enjoy a new scratch-made Texas chili, homemade quesadillas, and a new Rainbow Salad. Students at the secondary level, meanwhile, will enjoy several new ethnic dishes this year, including fresh Chicken Tikka Masala, Roasted Red Pepper Hummus, and Cajun Roasted Red Potatoes.

“It’s every chef’s hope that they like it,” UpdeGraff said, “and I want to expand the palate of the district.” He said that students now are much more aware of different kinds of foods and cuisines than in decades past. And when those foods are well-prepared and well-presented, he added, students often get excited about the new flavors.

To get each school day off to a strong start, students at every Spring ISD campus will have access this year to free on-site breakfast. All elementary students will be offered breakfast in their classroom, available starting at each school’s respective drop-off-time (approximately 25 minutes before the start of the school day). Meanwhile, at the district’s middle and high schools, students will have access to breakfast between 30 and 40 minutes before the start of the school day.

"We know that children who start their day with a healthy breakfast and eat a good meal at lunch do better in school," Copeland said. "Our menus, created by our department dietitian and our chef, are designed to offer both nutritious and delicious options for students at all our Spring ISD campuses."

Through a special federal program, the district is also able to offer lunch at no cost to all students who attend 31 of its schools. Instead of the standard Free and Reduced-Price Meal Application, parents and guardians of students attending these schools are required to complete a Household Income Survey.

Free and reduced-price meals are also available, by application, at the nine remaining campuses, which include Northgate Crossing Elementary School, Winship Elementary School, Roberson Middle School, Springwoods Village Middle School, Twin Creeks Middle School, Spring Leadership Academy, Spring Early College Academy, Spring High School and Carl Wunsche Sr. High School.

Parents and guardians can fill out the Free and Reduced-Price Meal Application online via www.SchoolCafe.com. Paper applications are also available at each campus. All application information is kept confidential, and parents at the schools listed above are encouraged to fill out the application, even if they don’t think they’re eligible.

The School Café website also serves as an ongoing resource, where parents can access menus and pricing information (also available on the district website), as well as offering a place where parents can manage their child’s lunch account, make payments, receive low-balance alerts, and access other helpful information. Meals may also be prepaid at each campus by depositing cash into a student’s cafeteria account (no checks are accepted). The elementary lunch price this year is $1.75, while the prices for secondary school lunches begin at $2.00.

Parents and guardians are encouraged to make sure every student knows the PIN for their own meal account, as they will need to enter it for every cafeteria transaction, whether paid, reduced or free. For added convenience, students may also charge lunches if they do not have sufficient funds in their cafeteria account. In that case, parents will receive a notification when the student has charged a meal, and will be responsible for the payment of all meals charged to their student’s account.

“We do our best to make sure the process is straightforward and family-friendly,” Copeland said. “At the end of the day, we want all the good, nutritious food in our campus cafeterias to be available for our students – to help keep them nourished, healthy and energized to learn, each and every day.”

To learn more, visit www.springisd.org/nutrition or call 281-891-6445.


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