New East Grand food services director draws rave reviews
From Saturday Night Live to children’s cartoons, school cafeterias — and school food in particular — have been lampooned for generations. Nationwide the jokes have only increased over the last decade as an expanding list of dietary restrictions has forced schools to adapt their menus to federal regulations and not necessarily student tastes.
This year, though, the overriding theme has been praise as new Food Service Director for the East Grand School District Kristen McGuan works to bring fresh, healthy and delicious meals to the students of Grand County. The scuttlebutt has been moving throughout the District since the academic year began with teachers and administrators commenting on the quality of the food coming out of East Grand’s central kitchen facility.
McGuan started working for the East Grand School District this year when the position opened up following the retirement of former Director Joe Cisneros who worked for the district for five years.
McGuan is originally from southwestern Missouri and first moved to Colorado at age 21 to live as a ski bum in the Beaver Creek area.
“I was just taking a break from college,” McGuan said. “That break turned into years,” she joked.
During her first years in Colorado McGuan met her husband Justin. After having children the couple moved to Chicago where they lived for five years.
While living in Chicago McGuan attended culinary school. Her first inkling to study the culinary arts started while working at upscale restaurants near Beaver Creek ski resort.
“I worked as a server in a fine dining establishment that served six-course dinners,” said McGuan. “I was in awe of the chefs there and what they could do and I wanted to learn how to do that.”
McGuan said that during her early years working in the restaurants she would volunteer for various kitchen tasks the chefs were reluctant to perform.
“I would go and pick dill or thyme so I could be in the back.”
After having two children, McGuan and her husband moved back to Colorado 10 yeas ago, settling down in Granby.
“One of our requirements was to be within 30 minutes of a ski resort,” she said. “We wanted to raise our kids in Colorado.”
McGuan and her husband now have three children including one high school boy and two daughters, one in middle school and one in first grade.
Before taking over the Food Service position, McGuan worked at various restaurants in Grand County in both the front and back of the establishments and spent nearly two years working with Mountain Family Center teaching cooking classes.
“I want to promote wellness,” she said. “Eating is a part of that.”
But its not the healthiness of the food at EGSD that is drawing comments this year, it’s the taste, and the reviews are good. McGuan has placed an emphasis on fresh ingredients and also using lots of herbs for seasoning; something she is forced to rely on more heavily because of sodium restrictions for student meals.
McGuan says the dietary regulations she must adhere to are the most difficult parts of her job. Along with the sodium restrictions at least 51 percent of all bread and pasta products must be whole grain.
“That isn’t necessarily what the kids like,” she said. “It’s tough to work with the restriction. I get a lot of help just looking at other school web sites.”
Other unique regulations require specific colors appear in the meals each week.
“Legumes,” she joked. “That is a hard one to get kids to eat.”
McGuan says she understands the difficulty parents have in preparing meals for their kids for school.
“I have three kids and I could not stand making lunches for my kids every day. My goal is to take that responsibility off the parents. I want there to be healthy nutritious alternatives.”
Part of providing alternatives is the a la carte menu at East Grand.
“I want to make the a la carte an all fresh grab-n-go deli type system with fresh salads, wraps and veggie pizzas,” McGuan said.
She has also changed the district salad bar up to offer pre-made salads instead of the buffet format. She is introducing unique food items not typically found on public school menus such as edamame and smoothies as well.
The new food service director highlighted the work of the staff at East Grand as essential to the finished product. The district employs nearly a dozen other workers under McGuan to prepare meals for students, a mix of part time and full time workers with one work/study student.
“I have a staff that understands where I want to go and they are on board with that as well.,” she said.
The EGSD central kitchen serves around 400 hot lunches every day with an additional 75 students eating from the a la carte menu. McGuan is also looking to the future and other ways to expand East Grand Food Service’s role in the District.
“With the elementary school parties, they are trying to get away from all the cupcakes,” she said. “We are trying to funnel that through food service as well, and have a smoothie party instead maybe. It can be a tool to teach kids that snacks don’t have to be frosted cupcakes.”
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Ghosts, and goblins, and ghouls, oh my!