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Region 16’s new Food Service Director, Patricia Iraci, has been diligently working on the food service program for the past year and a half. Being new in the position, her first area of focus was on day to day functions in the cafeterias, including menu design and menu selection.
“I needed to understand the way that things have been working in the past,” Iraci stated. “We could determine a plan of where we wanted to take the program.”
Iraci is a graduate from Johnson and Wales University in Rhode Island with a degree in Culinary Arts. She is ServSafe Certified in food safety by the National Restaurant Association (NRA), which is the certification in food and beverage safety training. Upon graduation, she worked at Trinity College for 11 years as Director of Retail Operations, and slowly transitioned to working as the food service director for North Haven Public Schools.
During the four years that she worked in North Haven, she was able to recognize and implement strategies that followed state compliance while also adding value to the program.
“I enjoyed my time there,” Iraci mentioned. “But when Region 16 opened their position, it felt like a natural progression. It was close to home; my child attended school within the region. It was meant to be. I care about the program deeply, and I was excited about the opportunity to share my knowledge and improve the program wherever I could.”
Many students would say they have recognized multiple changes in the cafeteria at Woodland. Some of these changes include: a new salad bar, fresh baked bread, more fresh fruits and vegetables, and faster service with more self-serve options. Iraci explained that her motivation to make these changes stems from her desire for children to eat better and healthier.
“We’ve reduced processed food items by about thirty percent, and try to make whatever we can in house. It’s healthier, it tastes better, and it costs less. We are able to provide a wider variety of foods that the students actually enjoy,” Iraci revealed.
Some of the in-house cooking includes action stations where Iraci herself prepares dishes including vegetable lo mein or stir-fried rice in front of the students.
“The reason I did the display stations is so the students could see that the food was being prepared fresh and not being pulled out of the freezer and thrown in the oven. I wanted to change their perception of where the food comes from,” Iraci shared.
One of the toughest obstacles Iraci has faced is getting kids to try new things. The youth today has grown accustomed to more processed food because it’s faster and easier, according to Iraci.
Iraci is looking to do more sampling with the students so the students are more in control of what the cafeteria serves. If new things they provide are not popular sellers, she will have to continue to try new things. Iraci is a firm believer that you never fail until you stop trying.
“You can’t make everyone happy all the time, but my ultimate goal is the health and wellness of our students,” Iraci claimed. “I truly believe over time the changes we’re making are going to make a huge difference, and help make our students strong, healthy adults.”