Food Is Love – Robin Miller

robin-food-is-loveOne of the first things you will notice walking into our dining hall is the “Food is Love” board. On this wood carved board are three sections detailing what we are eating, what we waste, and a funny riddle to occupy young minds during the meal.

Through my time as an instructor, cook and now kitchen manager, I have learned that “food is love” means much more than words burned into wood and written in dry erase marker. Food is a gathering place for people.

We all take time during the day to nourish our bodies. Rarely at High Trails is this ever done alone. As an instructor, I find myself entertaining a table of students with virtual hide and seek while they munch down on slices of pizza and salad. As a cook, I spend a portion of mealtime catching up the day’s events with other instructors. This enjoyment of delicious calories brings people together and provides the basis for fun conversation, continual learning, and meaningful friendships.

After a long, cold day, a plate of warm food can really mean love. Better yet is when that food is healthy and well planned by the cooks. Given our location, the amount of fresh, healthy options we serve shows extreme care and devotion to the health of our students and staff. In an ideal situation, food is love would mean providing everyone’s favorite foods all the time. However, with any organization operating in the constraints of our economy, this love must be tempered with the available resources.

Working within a budget is one of the most challenging aspects of the kitchen at High Trails. Serving a couple hundred young mouths and hungry instructors every week on a tight budget requires a great deal of creativity.

Often, leftovers take new form as extra tater tots find their way into a tasty casserole, leftover salad toppings become omelet fillings, and excess oatmeal makes tasty fresh baked bread. Not much goes to waste in the kitchen at High Trails thanks to this ingenuity. Despite the limitations of our budget and location, we are still able to provide delicious meals for students and staff including pasta with garlic bread, a hearty tomato bean soup, fresh scrambled eggs and tater tots, vegetarian curry, breakfast burritos and falafel with fresh pita bread.

My time in the kitchen at High Trails has provided invaluable insight on how to run an efficient, effective and loving kitchen. Having studied government in college, spent a few years teaching kids in the woods, and building trails on the side; being an awesome cook is one of my recent interests. High Trails has allowed me the opportunity to pursue this interest to the fullest extent. There have certainly been bumps along the road: making sure the meals are complete, making sure staff are happy, and making sure it all fits into the bottom line. But, to be able to serve healthy, fresh food to nearly 200 people every day is quite the feat. With love, support and a budget each week, I am ready to take on the task.

At High Trails Outdoor Science School, we literally force our instructors to write about elementary outdoor education, teaching outside, learning outside, our dirty classroom (the forest…gosh), environmental science, outdoor science, and all other tree hugging student and kid loving things that keep us engaged, passionate, driven, loving our job, digging our life, and spreading the word to anyone whose attention we can hold for long enough to actually make it through reading this entire sentence. Whew….

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