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Geneva’s busiest restaurant set to open

Lunch? Sure! For 1,700? OK. Monday through Friday? No problem.For the next 10 months? Got it… and would you like breakfast and a snack, too? Hundreds of students from youngsters to high-schoolers have reservations starting this week at one of Geneva’s biggest restaurants ­ the Geneva City School District food service operation. The kitchens turn out food all year long, but by far the busiest time starts this Wednesday, Sept. 5, with the opening of school. Gerry Barker, Food Service Director, and his staff serve 1,700 kids, teachers, employees and food staff daily. Barker explained that federal rules and guidelines have been promoting healthier nutrition for school kids for about 15 years, and the recent Healthy Hunger Free Kids Act from the United States Dept. of Agriculture is the strongest proponent yet. Emphasizing smaller portions of food such as meats and healthier choices ­ can you say whole grains, and larger portions of fruits and vegetables ­ the new rules are being phased in over 10 years. The target is 800 to 850 calories per lunch. Barker believes in this approach. “We need to promote having healthy food for kids,” he said. Like other things, though, the food program needs help from parents at home. The benefits of eating healthy have to be constantly emphasized, Barker believes, so that kids don’t see smaller portions as taking something awayfrom them. Beth Mateo, high school/middle school cook manager, explained that it’s easier for the schools to teach students about eating better and healthier if they are learning the same lessons at home. “The Head Start program is great at this,” Barker said. “For example, the first time a kid tries a fruit, they will even let the child just touch the piece of fruit before getting to the eating part.” Another big change in school food service is the way students pay for lunches. It is no longer necessary every day to remind kids to bring their lunch money. Kids can set up accounts with numbers and the Nutrikids system will deduct the cost each day, e-mail parents to replenish the account on-line and even warn students if their tray includes a food they are allergic to. Lunch is $1.90 for secondary students and $1.80 for elementary kids. Breakfast is $1.05 and is served at all of the schools. Free and reduced price meals also are available. Barker has been in the food business since getting his degree in food management from Rochester Institute of Technology. He came to Geneva fouryears ago after 16 years at the Marcus Whitman Central School District. Before that he worked in restaurants and for contract food service companies at Ithaca College and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy. He plans the menus for all schools in the Geneva district. The operation has 34 employees, about half full-time, and also has kitchens and cook managers at West Street and North Street schools. In planning menus, Barker tries to buy local products when available, such as apples and cider, and he also works with a Rochester produce company and the state Office of General Services. The food budget for the year is over a half-million dollars. The menus are planned on a five-week cycle with about 25 to 30 menu items. The menu cycle only changes on holidays such as Thanksgiving. School menus are posted on the district’s website at www.genevacsd.org. For example, next week’s first day of school will feature Popcorn chicken with a whole wheat roll, Honeyed Rib-bque on a whole wheat bun, Assorted subs on whole wheat rolls, mashed potatoes, green beans, and green garden salad. Talking about feeding students in an hour interview, Barker mentions whole grains, fruits, leafy vegetables, dark green vegetables such as broccoli and spinach, baked beans, bean soup, orange vegetables, starchy vegetables such as white and yellow potatoes and corn, asparagus, cucumbers, romaine lettuce, brown rice, wheat pizza shells, grapes and skim chocolate milk. But don’t despair totally. Oatmeal, molasses, chocolate chip and sugar cookies are still on the menu, though the staff is experimenting with wheat flour. What you won’t hear is the word “fried.””We sold off the last of the deep fryers last year,” Barker said. The new word is “baked”. The secondary schools have had a salad bar for five years and about 100 to 120 students use it every day. With summer school and lunches and snacks for the Boys and Girls Clubs and Catholic Charities, the food service operation is going year around in the school district. The cafeterias at the high school and middle school were deserted on a visit this week, but that will all change in a few days when Barker and his staff do what they enjoy: breakfast, lunch and snacks for hundreds Monday through Friday.

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