Meet Winston-Salem’s Nutrition Mentor: Jim Faggione!

May 03, 2011

We recently spoke with Jim Faggione, who works with the child nutrition department for Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools. Jim brought his expertise in nutrition to support each of the teams of culinary students who took part in Cooking up Change Winston-Salem.  As each team worked to create a healthy, great-tasting school meal, Jim visited the students to review their recipes and help them think through ways to adjust the recipes to meet the nutrition standards set by the contest.

Jim said that Cooking up Change provided a great opportunity to create a relationship with students. “I am definitely proud of our team,” he said. “They did a phenomenal job.” The winning team from Winston-Salem will travel to Washington, DC later in May to showcase their chicken BBQ sandwich and compete against teams from across the country in the Cooking up Change national finals!

How did you become interested in the culinary arts? What inspired you to work with aspiring chefs? 

I’ve always been in food; I’ve been in food since I was a teenager in some respect. [I started as] a line cook at a restaurant and nursing home. It’s always been my career and I just worked my way up into the position I’m in now. We liked the idea of getting the culinary kids involved with the child nutrition department. [At the time], there was no relationship in the district with the culinary program at the career center and us at the child nutrition department. So we thought this was a great way to bridge the gap and get them to see how we do things and invest their time and energy in creating menus for us. 

What do you believe is most effective in encouraging people to make healthy food choices?

Media is a great resource to get the word out about reports on childhood obesity and the importance of eating right. Our school system too. We need to do a good job getting the information to students about making the right choices.

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Student chefs in the kitchen during the Cooking up Change Winston-Salem contest

What made you and your students want to participate in Cooking up Change?  

I saw some information about it and it looked like a great opportunity to get exposure for our kids. Motivating them to win a prize is a great way to expose them to healthy eating, healthier choices. Also,  we wanted to get them exposed to creating menus with nutritional parameters. It was a great learning tool for them. There was that learning aspect, plus the opportunity to compete at the national level.

What do you want your students to learn from participating in Cooking up Change?

I think they have learned it. They are pretty aware now how difficult it is to create a menu for K-12 that has that balance of nutrition, taste, and appeal. When we first started out, a lot of the recipes were fantastic in terms of appearance and taste, but the nutritional value was just not there. After a few tries, they went back, re-tried recipes to reflect the nutritional parameters. They learned the difficulty of putting healthy foods together so that it is tasty.

What do you believe is an effective way to promote healthy eating?Education, but how do you educate?

You truly have to be on the ground level, a distributor, such as grocery stores. Provide information that would help parents make decisions about what they buy and feed their children at home. Pair that with a curriculum where nutritional education is taught. We teach kids about history, English, and science, but when it comes to making the right choices about economics and nutrition, we are lacking.

What advice are you giving your students as they prepare for the national contest in DC?

Just be loose, have fun, and be confident! I was just blown away by their professionalism, their attention to detail, and their culinary skills. I was extremely impressed; I think they have all the tools. My advice to them now: be confident in what you know and have fun, be loose!

Tell us how you incorporate nutrition education into your work with child nutrition department.

We promote making the right choices. Through our program, we highlight meals that are nutritionally balanced based on nutritionist recommendations. Those meals are highlighted on school menus and have incentives for making healthy decisions. 

What inspired your students to create their healthy school meals?

At first they weren’t too inspired, the first couple of times they were resistant about it. Once they knew they would create a meal that would be incorporated into menus, they got excited about producing a meal that other kids would get a chance to eat.

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Winning Cooking up Change Winston-Salem meal

Thanks to Jim for sharing this inside perspective and good luck to all the student teams as they prepare for the finals in DC! You can read more about the Winston-Salem team here.