Winner, Winner Chicken Lunch

Eden Prairie School District uses Farm to School grant funds to purchase rotisserie ovens.

Roxann Roushar learned a long time ago that the way to students’ hearts is through the lunch line. For more than 15 years, Roushar has served as the director of child nutrition for the Eden Prairie School District. Tending to the broad scope of palates of the district’s 10,000-plus students is no small order. Roushar’s search for new ways to keep the students well fed and happy led her to secure funds to purchase two rotisserie ovens, which were installed at Eden Prairie High School (EPHS) last summer.

Thanks to a grant from the Minnesota Department of Agriculture’s Farm to School program, which encourages schools to partner with local farmers to offer healthy foods to students, Roushar and her team are able to cook 28 chickens per oven in about an hour and a half. Chickens from Gold’n Plump, which sources from farmers in Minnesota and Wisconsin, arrive on Fridays. “They’re as fresh as you can get them,” Roushar says.

The chickens are prepped on Mondays with a low-sodium poultry rub (“It’s really tasty,” she says.) and are cooked on Tuesdays for about 3,000 EPHS students.
Roushar, who has been with the district for more than 25 years, thought about purchasing rotisserie ovens for quite some time, but the idea finally came to fruition after she attended last year’s Minnesota School Nutrition Conference, where the state’s Department of Agriculture offered information about the grant program. The district applied for and was granted the funds. (The purchase was also supported by Blue Cross Blue Shield and district funds.)

Roushar’s not the only person who thinks the ovens are a good idea—students seem to agree by voting with their lunch trays. After Roushar highlighted the new menu option on an appearance on the high school’s broadcast platform EagleVision, “We sold out of chicken by the fourth lunch, and we have five lunches,” she says.

While the chicken meals are a success at the high school (and new recipes are in the works to incorporate the chicken into other menu items), the district’s elementary and middle schools have yet to have the rotisserie items added to their menus. Roushar says staff is assessing the added costs involved with transporting and serving the chicken at other sites. Since the ovens are used just once a week for high school lunches, Roushar explains that the district is considering ways to make use of the equipment in a catering capacity, making rotisserie-cooked chickens available to the public.  “We’re trying to figure out how we can utilize these without increasing labor,” she says.

Roushar says Eden Prairie is the first school district in the nation to purchase rotisserie ovens with the Farm to School grant funds, and it’s eliciting a lot of interest from area districts. “I’ve had a number of schools come and look (at the ovens),” she says, noting that representatives from Chaska, Lakeville, Prior Lake, Shakopee and other statewide schools have visited the EPHS kitchen.

Additional information about the Farm to School program is available at the website here.