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Learning to teach: school cook trainers take refresher course in Russia

School cooks are the mediators between the School Feeding Programme and its beneficiaries. They cook for children, do beautiful plating, and welcome the little ones to the school canteen with a kind smile. School cooks are not just the people who make soup or porridge; they work to serve safe, tasty, and attractive meals and thus provide children with the necessary portion of vitamins and valuable substances.

School cooks’ mastery does not appear out of nowhere - it is years of work, perseverance, and training. Making safe, delicious, and healthy school meals requires profound skills, from the choice of products and the preparation methods to the calculation of nutrients in accordance with the children’s daily needs.

Currently, school cooks are taught these nuances during the training courses conducted by the School Feeding and Child Welfare Agency as part of the School Feeding Programme. Shortly, Armenia plans to offer advanced training for cooks in rural schools to provide as many chefs as possible with the opportunity to improve their skills in preparing school meals.

Meanwhile, Armenian school cook trainers headed for the Russian city of Tambov to hone their teaching skills and examine Russia’s expertise in the organization of school meals.

The refresher course was held at Karasev Multidisciplinary College from October 16 to 20, 2023.

First, the participants visited schools in the Tambov region, familiarizing themselves with different school feeding models and modern catering units' infrastructure. They also went to see the meat-and-milk and vegetable processing facilities belonging to local producers who supply products to schools.

School feeding provided by supplier

During a visit to Tambov’s Skolkovo school attended by 3,200 children, the guests watched how a buffet is served. In Michurinsk, they took a tour of a food production plant that makes meals for urban schools and hospitals. Schools with no catering facilities receive ready-made hot meals to feed the children.

The guests also visited a dairy plant, which supplies its products to school canteens as part of the School Milk programme. Every week, each child is given 200 ml of milk free of charge. Milk is not always served alone. In an effort to diversify the menu, porridge, cocoa, and other meals are made using milk or dairy products.

Meals by school’s efforts

As a rule, schools located in rural areas have some territory for establishing a garden where they can grow organic vegetables, fruits, and herbs and use the crops to prepare meals for children. This is the case when meals are organized by the school’s efforts. For example, during a visit to the Tatanov school with an agricultural focus, the guests learned how agricultural technologies are implemented on the school plot. The school has an expanded staff, including a nutrition manager who develops the menu and cooks who prepare the dishes on-site.

Learning theory

Examining practical cases is good. However, any knowledge is based on theory. After visiting schools, the delegation from Armenia attended a series of lectures on organizing school meals. The lectures were delivered by representatives of Rospotrebnadzor of the Tambov region and the Veterinary and Phytosanitary Surveillance, who focused on the ways of improving the school meals quality: inspection of documents accompanying the products supplied to schools, menu composition, log keeping, purchase and storage of food, specifics of cooking school meals, and many more.

The lectures were followed by practical lessons. Under the guidance of professional chefs, the participants made pastries and cupcake dough while learning how to shape and decorate baked products.

During the practical lessons, culinary masters also exchanged experiences. One of the Armenian guests offered a carving masterclass, explaining to Tambov College teachers how to cut vegetables into exquisite shapes. Another participant, a professional baker, demonstrated a variety of options for shaping butter dough.

А practical exam concluded the training programme. Participants were asked to serve a lunch: soup and a main course, according to the recipe. Some recipes required the use of a combi steamer. Thus, the attendees learned a new cooking method since not every school or college in Armenia possesses such equipment.

Upon completing the refresher course, school cook trainers headed home with a wealth of knowledge on organizing school meals to share everything they had learned with their colleagues and work together to improve school feeding practices in Armenia.