Shannon Williams checks the temperature of her made-from-scratch lasagna with a cooking thermometer. It’s 179 degrees Fahrenheit shortly after coming out of the oven.
“Perfect,” she whispers to herself.
She jots down the temp on a chart that helps her keep track of food quality. But then she begins to wonder if she’s made enough. Ten trays should do it, she thinks; seven for the Telluride Middle/High School and three for the Telluride Elementary School. Plus, the middle/high school trays are a little deeper, she adds.
As the school district’s new food service director, Williams has revamped the grub options, including replacing frozen hamburger patties with fresh Colorado beef burgers and integrating an endless salad bar and fruit offering into the mix. No “Billy Madison” sloppy joes will be plopped upon student’s trays.
“My goal is to make everything completely from scratch, using fresh, whole ingredients, and to eliminate as much processed food as possible,” she said.
That started with rerouting the lunch line. This year, students hit the salad bar first, which hasn’t been the case in years past, as it was previously in a separate area of the cafeteria.
Then, they can grab a fruit before making it to the main course.
“I want the kids to be able to have unlimited access to vegetables and fruits,” Williams said.
On Friday, the entrée was the lasagna, which went quickly.
“I want to keep it interesting,” she said. “I did look at last year’s menu, and I think this year will be a lot different than that.”
She credits her staff of four “rock stars” for helping her create the new menu items and making the transition smooth. She explained that all the elementary school food has to be ready by 10 a.m. The middle/high school rush starts at 11:15 a.m.
Superintendent Mike Gass said he’s been eating in the cafeteria more often this year.
“We’re excited with what Shannon has brought to the table, so to speak,” he said.
He explained that lunch offerings where pretty much the same every day — hamburgers and corn dogs, mostly — in years past, which led to a discussion of changing things up. Conversations with parents who worked in the local food industry, including Butcher & Baker co-owner Megan Ossola, provided input and direction, Gass added.
“It’s new and different stuff that we may have not seen before on our line,” he said. “It’s good to shake it up once and a while.”
He enjoyed the lasagna Friday, which also was his birthday (3rd grade students sang him “Happy Birthday” during their lunch).
Williams, who previously worked for the Ouray School District, believes the new lunch program will generate more revenue, which will allow the school to explore more options. She added the district already uses Colorado beef, apples and potatoes. While in Ouray, she increased participation and revenue by 85 percent. As a result, that district started a farm-to-school program. She has similar plans for Telluride.
“Ultimately, I would love to start a farm-to-school program,” she said. “That’s definitely a goal within the next 24 months.”
Gass said it’s too early to calculate revenue trends, but he believes more students are buying school lunches so far this year.
“I definitely see more kids going through the line,” he said. “ … It’s fun when you have the problem of kids coming back for seconds and how much do you give them. That was not the problem a year or two ago. We’re getting some positive feedback from our kids.”
Other dishes that have fared well this year include roasted turkey, including a butter herb and Dijon glaze, with mashed potatoes, and orange chicken and rice.
“They just thought that that was the yummiest thing,” Williams said of the turkey and taters.
She said some favorites will be repeated throughout the year. Ultimately, it’s about providing students with a well-rounded, nutritious meal.
“That’s what I’m passionate about,” she said.