Made-from-scratch meals hit the spot

Chef LJ Klink instructs cooks with the Pullman School District on Wednesday how to properly cut a pepper in a scratch cooking training.

It has been a year since Pullman schools began preparing meals from scratch, and district officials say the program has been an unmitigated success.

Pullman School District Nutrition Services Director Sheba Nalle said after hearing positive feedback from students, parents and staff, she hopes to expand the program further in the next few years. She said some students have already picked out favorite dishes.

“They tend to need to be exposed to a dish a couple of times, and then once they find that they really like it, they start reading and scouring the menu in advance to choose which days that they’re going to eat school meals,” Nalle said, noting some parents allow their children to choose specific days of the week to eat school lunch to cut back on cost. “I have heard from parents that they really pay attention to the menu now because their students are choosing the days that we’re making the scratch cooking.”

Nalle said about 50 percent of the meals in Pullman’s elementary schools are now made from scratch. At Lincoln Middle School, it’s closer to 75 percent and at the high school it’s around 90 percent. She said the Pullman School District will continue to add a couple of scratch meals to each school per month over the next three years with the goal of serving 95 percent scratch-cooked food districtwide.

In addition to the positive feedback from students, parents and teachers about the quality and taste of scratch-cooked meals, Nalle said the change has also been good for cafeteria staff. They are learning a set of skills they can carry with them the rest of their lives, and they can take pride in the food they cook.

“We’re just excited about it because we feel better about our food,” Nalle said. “We feel more involved in our roles as cooks versus just warming up food for kids and serving them something substandard. I feel like it’s been great for the morale of our staff.”

There was some apprehension about the cost of such a project when the scratch-cooking program began, she said. But costs have remained flat since the program was implemented, and she expects the district will spend less on school meals as cooks become better at formulating simple, nutritious meals that are both functional and flavorful.

“We have always heard a scratch-cooking program is going to cost you a lot more money. We have not spent any more money on food this past year,” Nalle said. “In fact, we were almost exact from prior years on spending on food, and we did not increase our labor hours. So I felt like it was a success because we serve healthier quality food to students, and it did not cost us any more money to do so.”

Scott Jackson can be reached at (208) 883-4636, or by email to

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