April 28, 2023

In the public eye: RSU 14 chef keeps focus on proper nutrition

Editor’s note: This is another in an ongoing series of Windham and Raymond town employee profiles.

By Masha Yurkevich

Health is an important part of each person’s life and School Nutrition and Wellness Coordinator Ryan Roderick has been making sure that RSU 14 students eat properly.

Ryan Roderick has served for the past four years as the 
School Nutrition and Wellness Coordinator for RSU 14.
Roderick is originally from Peabody, Massachusetts.
For the past four years, Roderick has been working to oversee, train, and maintain an efficient, skilled, and knowledgeable kitchen staff in each of the RSU 14 school food operations and to ensure that the food served to students is up to all USDA, and NSLP requirements as well as their own quality standards. He is also in charge of developing and improving recipes with input from the staff and student body and incorporating healthy food and cooking into enrichment activities and opportunities for students. Training and maintaining food safety procedures with the kitchen staff in every school and developing monthly menus for elementary, middle, and high schools is also part of his work.

Roderick grew up in Peabody, Massachusetts and took a few vocational style cooking classes in high school. He attended Johnson and Wales University in Providence, Rhode Island and graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree in hospitality management and an Associate of Science degree in food and beverage management.

“I had been working in food service for over 10 years, which mostly included nights, weekends, and holidays. I had been a food runner, waiter, bartender, cook, FOH manager, and General Manager over the years,” says Roderick. “I was tired and losing my patience with hard customers who seemed to just want to be mad at someone. I had always loved the thought of the school schedule, especially because I had spent a few summers at this point as a whitewater guide, and the thought of making school meals and showing kids that healthy food can not only be good for you but taste good as well seemed much more rewarding than anything money could buy.”

This led Roderick to his current position as the School Nutrition and Wellness Coordinator for RSU 14.

“I really enjoy making people happy, whether it's helping one of our staff unlock or learn new skills, or watching students try a new menu item, perhaps a food or recipe they've never tried before, and light up with excitement because of how much they enjoy it,” he said.

Roderick says that the most challenging aspect of what he does is making sure we come up with recipes and other choices so that every student can find something they like.

“We are not a traditional restaurant, we can't just have the mindset of ‘This is what we make, if you don't like it go somewhere else’,” he says. “Thankfully, Maine has decided to make school meals free for all students, and I believe we have an obligation to try our best to make meals that appeal to all students.”

One of the biggest misconceptions that people may have about school meals is that they are low quality, high processed food made by unskilled and disgruntled workers.

“In reality, we have an amazing, friendly staff who love the work they do and roughly 70 to 80 percent of the meals they produce are made from scratch using fresh local ingredients. Due to this, our participation and student satisfaction is at an all-time high,” says Roderick.

One of Roderick’s favorite parts of this job is rolling out a new menu item, whether it was something that he came up with, one of the staff, or even a student.

“My least favorite part is feeling held back by some of the guidelines we have to follow and the quality of some of the ingredients we have to use due to the fact that we are financially limited by nature of being a government funded program,” Roderick said.

He said that he appreciates all the support that students and families have shown the kitchen staff throughout the pandemic and beyond.

“We are here to serve these communities of Windham and Raymond, and over the years your willingness to join us in creating a generation of healthy eaters has been vital to our collective successes,” Roderick said. “We hope you will continue to try new foods with us, provide feedback, and push for the best standards that we can achieve.” <

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