PANAMA CITY — When it comes to breakfast in the school cafeteria, biscuits are a big deal.
For the last several years, federal regulations have forced schools to stop using white enriched flour in cafeteria meals, meaning biscuits and other items had to be made with whole wheat flour.
The results were decidedly un-Southern. Parents complained. Students complained. And biscuits were left uneaten.
“Last year, we would bang them on the table, they were like rocks,” said Howard Simmons, a senior at Rutherford High School.
For five years, students asked to bring back the biscuits. And this year, they finally got their wish.
“The kids have spoken,” said Julio Narvaez, who is the regional district manager for Chartwells, the district’s food service provider.
This year, Narvaez and Chartwells were able to obtain a “grain waiver,” given out to school food authorities who have trouble sourcing whole grain-rich products, letting them bring the classic Southern-style biscuit back to the menu.
“They actually taste like buttery biscuits,” said Simmons. “They’re very warm and fluffy. It’s like my grandmother made them. They’re like grandma biscuits.”
The biscuits are back at all the schools in the district, and they’re only the start of what Narvaez and the Chartwells team are implementing this year. It’s all about choices, he said, and they even brought on a District Chef, Sarah DiPietrantonio, to help spice up the menus.
“Our approach is homestyle,” she said. “If these folks want home cooking, grandma’s cooking, that’s where we’re going with it.”
House-made salad dressings, barbecue sauces, marinara sauces and pizza sauces, meatloaf, and chicken pot pie are some of the new offerings the chef has brought to the table. Narvaez said they’ve also moved toward sourcing less processed, more wholesome ingredients, while finding a balance with student favorites, like chicken patties.
“It’s not that we’re going back,” he said. “It’s an addition.”
And students like Simmons have taken notice.
“I feel like the quality of the food has really been better,” he said. “It’s a big improvement.”
Panama City News Herald