DAKOTA DUNES | Ali Lampman looks and acts nothing like the "school lunch lady" you probably had as a kid.
Instead, the Lunchtime Solutions, Inc. menu research and development chef is creating delicious, healthy meals that kids will actually want to eat.
"Kids want several entree choices plus they want an unlimited fruit and veggie bar on a daily basis," Lampman said inside a conference room of the privately owned K -12 food service management company based out of Dakota Dunes. "The kids are our customers and they're not afraid to give us feedback."
A business that has contracts with more than 50 school districts across the country, Lunchtime Solutions landed a spot in Food Management Magazine's Top 50 Contract Management Companies earlier this year.
Lampman said the company's success come from the concept that there's no such thing as a one-size-fit-all school school district.
"Although we provide food service for Dakota Valley and Hinton, we also have contracts with districts in Minnesota and Missouri," she explained. "There are different meal expectations that we've identified."
For instance, a student will always have a choice between a regular school lunch staple like chicken nuggets as well as a cozier "homestyle" meal like a Beef Stroganoff.
"Some students are used to nothing but made-from-scratch food," Lampman said. "That's why we'll always have something made from scratch."
Likewise, a fruit and veggie bar with 8 to 10 different fresh or canned option for kids to choose.
"Even better than that, we work with local farmers whenever possible," Lampman said. "If it is logistically feasible, we'll do a field trip where kids can see where the produce is grown."
This is important to Lampman, who thinks nutrition is an important part of any school curriculum.
"Instructing children on healthy food and lifestyle is a big priority for me," she said.
First, Lampman works with compliance staff in creating menus that limit calorie intake, curb trans fat and sodium consumption while increasing fruit and vegetable serving.
But then she has a little fun.
"I love going into the classroom while doing a chef demo," Lampman said. "That when I'll cook an item right in front of the kids."
Often times, she'll try a healthy item kids might be used to eating in school, like a Chinese Stir Fry or Chicken Florentine.
"They get to see it made right in front of them," Lampman said. "They'll know all of the ingredients it takes to make a healthy dish."
When she's not in a classroom, Lampman is creating new recipes.
Indeed, she's especially excited by such unusual lunchroom fare as a Cuban Hot Dog (a hot dog served in a flatbread, along with Cuban sandwich fixings like ham, cheese and pickles); a Chicken and Waffle Sandwich; and a Chinese Taco.
"Our Chinese Taco has a fresh slaw with Asian flavoring, veggies and a homemade pineapple salsa served in a crunchy taco shell," she said. "It's delicious."
School lunches have come a long way over the years and Lampman is pleased that Lunchtime Solutions is creating innovative meals for a potentially picky clientele.
"If we're able to teach kids healthy eating habits at an early age," she said, "they'll be eating healthy foods for the rest of their lives."
And who knows, maybe Lampman will spur student into considering a career in the school food service industry?
"I have no doubt that I'm serving the next generation of foodies," she said with a smile.