MUSCLE SHOALS -- About 30 school cafeteria managers from around the state were at Muscle Shoals High School on Wednesday learning from culinary experts how to best prepare and present nutritious food to students.

The training workshop that ends today is sponsored by the Alabama Department of Education through the Institute of Child Nutrition. The institute's two-day, hands-on training program is also going on this week at Russellville High School.

Healthy Cuisine for Kids is a pilot program that will be monitored by the State Department of Education's Child Nutrition Program. The purpose, according to June Barrett, director of child nutrition, is to teach cafeteria managers professional food service so that they can, in turn, teach their own staffs.

Managers from as far away as Randolph County attended.

Barrett said there are 1,400 cafeteria managers statewide. 

The information shared, she said, will result in improved skills and improved palatability of foods for children.

"We need our children in schools to enjoy eating, and that includes the smells, colors and presentation of food items," Barrett said. "These professionals with the Institute of Child Nutrition specialize in teaching those things."

Tracy Burg, a chef/dietician at Boston Medical Center who also works for the Institute of Child Nutrition, worked with the managers on culinary techniques, recipe preparation, and knowing the nutritional value of the food they serve.

"We look at food as culinary medicine, and we're preventing disease such as heart attack and hypertension as well as obesity," Burg said.

In her workshops, Burg said she stresses how to present food for children in fun, visually appealing ways.

"You can get kids to eat a lot of things by presenting them attractively," Burg said. "When you do, it teaches them healthy food behavior habits."

Mandy Overstreet, cafeteria manager of Margaret Elementary in St. Clair County, said she learned simple things that she'd never thought of.

"She showed us how to pack flour properly and I couldn't believe I'd never even given that a thought," Overstreet said.

Regina Fulghum, a cafeteria manager from Randolph County, said the information she'll take back to Handley Middle School is valuable.

"I'm chopping all the time, but she showed us a much easier technique for chopping onions, for example," Fulghum said of her first day of the workshop. 

Muscle Shoals Child Nutrition Director Betsy Speer said the sessions were engaging and informative.

"This is very valuable training for our managers. They're all so knowledgeable already that they've just jumped in and soaked up the whole experience," Speer said.

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