JENNIFER JACKSON’S PORT TOWNSEND NEIGHBOR COLUMN: Brinnon lunch lady whips up healthy meals

WHEN NICOLE NORRIS was hired to be the cook at the Brinnon School five years ago, she had a dream SEmD to become the cool lunch lady who handed out cookies, cake and brownies.

Instead, she turned out to be the cool lunch lady who whips up fresh fruit smoothies, homemade granola bars, crunchy taco salads and pizza with her own whole-wheat crust.

And she does it with only a two-burner stove, a convection oven, a blender and a household Kitchen-Aid mixer.

From scratch

Nicole uses the mixer to make dough for biscuits and brought a griddle from home to make french toast.

For lunch, she chops lettuce and makes taco, pasta or chef’s salad as a daily alternative to the regular entree.

And the regular entrees are also made from scratch.

“The No. 1 favorite is beef stroganoff,” she said.

Nicole was inspired to eliminate processed food from the menu by Jamie Oliver, the “Food Revolution” guru who has a prime-time show on ABC.

She also stopped serving chocolate milk at breakfast after hearing him say that in the course of school year, a morning carton of chocolate milk adds up to a wheelbarrow of sugar.

“I want to feel good about what I’m serving,” she said. “In the long run, I want to help students establish healthy eating habits.”

Nicole, who attended Brinnon School in eighth grade, said she learned to cook at Quilcene High School, where she took vocational cooking from Veda Wilson and worked in the school kitchen.

First job

Her first job was at Seabeck Pizza at Pleasant Harbor Marina, where she became assistant marina manger. She also was a line cook at the Geoduck Tavern.

The school cook job at Brinnon is part time.

Nicole comes in at 7 a.m. to prepare and serve breakfast, then starts cooking lunch.

“I have 3 ½ hours,” she said. “If I made corn dogs, I’d sit there all morning waiting until it was time to warm them up.”

She also doesn’t let the students sit around.

Two years ago, she found a program called “Do Amazing Things” on the Washington State Dairy Council Web site that encouraged exercise and healthy eating habit.

The next year, when the program morphed into a contest, “Fuel Up to Play 60,” Nicole printed up charts for students to keep track of how many minutes they exercised and what they ate, with bonus points for fresh fruits and vegetables.

“It was a lot of fun,” Nicole said. “Kids starting asking what food goes in what food group.”

Second in state

Even though there are only 32 students at Brinnon School, Nicole found out last week the students placed second in the state and 26th in the nation in this year’s contest, which is online.

The winning school in the state, Lincoln Elementary in Vancouver, has more than 400 students, she said.

The key to Brinnon’s success: Everyone participated because the effort was incorporated into daily school life.

“The students used their time in the technology center to enter their data,” Nicole said, noting the top three students with the most points will be announced at a school assembly Friday.

Nicole is not resting on her laurels.

Her latest campaign: eliminating disposable plastic forks, which will save money, and ordering real utensils.

She saves the plastic bowls cereal comes in for students to plant seeds in.

She takes kitchen food scraps home to compost in her garden but wants to start a school composting program as well as a school garden in conjunction with the Brinnon Community Center, the grounds of the school being prone to visits from resident elk.

Nicole’s latest objective: to not served any processed food to students during the month of April.

She’d also like to make omelets, but doesn’t have a big enough cook space.

Someone donated an eight-burner propane stove to the school 10 years ago, she said, but the school couldn’t afford to install it because it required vents.

“I’m keeping my fingers crossed,” she said.

Her overall goal: to serve nothing that comes out of a box. She knows the students will approve.

“I know all the kids,” she says. “I know what they like.”


Jennifer Jackson writes about Port Townsend and Jefferson County every Wednesday. To contact her with items for this column, phone 360-379-5688 or e-mail jjackson@olypen.

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