This story originally appeared in the fall 2013 Harker Quarterly.
Harker’s ever-evolving food services program is set to undergo more exciting changes in the coming year, with more menu options, healthier food choices and more themed varieties. Patrons may have
already noticed some of the many changes food service manager Stephen Martin – or “Chef Steve,” as he has come to be known in his nearly 25 years at Harker – has made in the last two years.
“We’re trying to stay on the cutting edge and add new things, healthy choices,” said Martin. “We use a lot less mayonnaise now. We don’t use a lot of mayonnaise-based dressings and when we make salads we use a lot of extra virgin olive oil and vinegars.”
Dessert portions were also made smaller overall, but not to discourage people from partaking of cake or brownies after lunch. “A taste can go a long way,” Martin said. In other words, a smaller portion can satisfy the hunger for confections without making patrons feel too guilty about grabbing something sweet. This enables dieters to enjoy smaller desserts while others can have more if they so choose. “By cutting [desserts] smaller,” Martin said, “we were able to give people more variety.”
New to the upper school this year is the addition of an area dedicated to international foods, where cuisine from different parts of the world will be featured on a regular basis. “We may do Asian for two weeks, we may do German, we may do French,” Martin said. A new station featuring Mexican dishes and a salsa bar has also been added at the gym.
Several new stations have been added to offer a greater diversity of dishes and to make upper school lunchtime crowds more manageable. Among these are the outdoor barbecue station, the sidewalk café (where to-go wraps and other items are served via cart) and a window in the Bistro serving sushi, quiches and other appetizers.
“We needed more stations because so many students were forced into an area,” said Martin. “We really were trying to spread out the crowd. That’s why we added a window in the Bistro.”
At the middle school, where a bistro and barbecue station have also been added, there will be an increased emphasis on vegetarian options in response to increased demand from middle school families. “We designated a whole section of the station to vegetarian choices,” Martin noted.
Changes are also in store for the lower school, where Martin hopes to educate children on foods featuring whole grains and whole wheat. “They can’t be intimidated by food,” he said. “So we’re going to try to … educate the little ones on eating certain things that make it so that the menu is very healthy but appealing.”
In order to make the food more “exciting” for the entire Harker community as well as its younger students, Martin plans to feature a type of fruit each month: “We’ll do different salads, incorporate it into the entrée, incorporate it into desserts, just to get kids to try to eat more fruit.”
The lower, middle and upper schools are not the only places where Martin has big plans, however. The newly launched preschool will also focus on providing healthy foods that students will enjoy, such as mini whole-grain bagel sandwiches, whole-wheat English muffin pizzas and items featuring chicken and turkey. In an effort to “try to keep it low in fat and high in nutritional value,” as Martin put it, no fried food will be served.
“A lot of stuff is going to be from scratch,” added preschool kitchen manager Lisa Machuca.
Machuca also noted that food at the preschool will be served differently than at other campuses. Instead of eating at a designated lunch area, preschool students will have food brought to them in their classrooms and the students will serve themselves.
Students will also be served snacks three times a day, including fruit smoothies, cottage cheese, apple slices and other health-minded and age-appropriate foods.
Schoolwide gluten-free options are also being considered, but Martin and the food service department want to make sure that they can meet their own high standards when offering these options. “We’re trying to work with gluten-free, but it’s unfortunate that gluten’s in almost everything,” Martin said, also noting that gluten-free bread tends to fall apart easily. “We’re going to start simple, but we’re going to try to get the best of the best and then we’re going to feature it.”
Aside from finding ways to keep food options interesting for the Harker community, Martin is also passionate about informing the community about what they eat and his philosophy on keeping Harker students, faculty and staff healthy and fulfilled. “I really want to establish a rapport with the whole community, with the teachers and the staff and the kids, about a balanced diet,” he said. To this end, he hopes to publish nutritional information in the Harker online portals that will provide the community with information about what they eat and “give them the tools to work with so they can have a healthy diet.”
By doing this, he hopes that some misconceptions people have about the food they eat can be quelled. “It’s not bad to eat pizza. It’s bad to eat pizza every day.” In the end, Martin said, food service’s mission is to offer a wide variety of choices to the Harker community that will allow them to make the choices they need for a proper diet. “You can go to every station and get a well-balanced meal,” he said.