Behind the Scenes in the Food Service Department
Isabella Newman knows several tricks for getting children to try new and healthy foods. Her secrets are put to the test daily inside Queensbury Middle School, where she manages the cafeteria food services.
“You have to make it presentable, pretty, with colors because color is what attracts people,” she advised.
Color is perhaps the first thing that stands out in a food service line when students walk up with their trays. Fruit salad cups boast purple grapes, golden peaches and red apples or strawberries. Melted mozzarella pops with the green and red of sliced peppers on Philly cheesesteak pizza day. Crisp cucumber slices, black bean salads, tomato wedges, broccoli cups and other fresh produce add to the rainbow of food.
Preparation of these and other school meal items starts early, with Newman arriving each day by 6:30 a.m. In addition to preparing meals, she also provides staff oversight, manages product inventory, documents food sales and jumps in whenever her staff need an extra set of hands. Her management style is informed by having spent the last 10 years in a variety of positions in Queensbury school cafeterias.
“I went from being the dishwasher to the taco line server to running the computer to temporary cook to full-time cook and now manager. I’ve done it all here,” she said. “I have an excellent crew, and we all help each other.”
Newman is the proud parent of three children, including a third-grader, a ninth-grader and a senior who will graduate from Glens Falls High School this June. Being a parent was the reason she started working in cafeterias, with their school-day work schedule, but children also are the reason why she stays.
“I love cooking, so it gave me the opportunity to cook and to serve the kids,” she said. “I treat them as if they were my own. I’d make something that I would want my own kids to have.”
Her favorite item to prepare is pizza, with all the creativity that it allows. “You can play with pizza. You can do different toppings,” she said.
School pizzas today are healthier than what prior generations enjoyed, with whole wheat crusts for example, but she said, “As long as you make it the same way as they expect it, they’re not going to taste a difference.”
“I like the kids coming up to me and saying, ‘Wow, Miss Izzie, that pizza was really good,’ or, ‘Mmm, that pasta was really good.’ Just seeing the expressions on their faces, that they enjoyed something at school. When you have students come up to you and say, ‘You did a good job,’ that’s the best part of the job.”