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Cooking Up a Nutritional Change at RUSD

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By Ashley Jones

In July 2012, Riverside Unified School District (RUSD) began to implement major improvements to their nutritional programs in hopes of promoting better nutrition and reducing childhood obesity. The inspiration behind these new changes came from First Lady Michelle Obama’s Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids (HHFK) Act of 2010. RUSD currently serves 43,000 students and has 47 school sites.

Prior to these impactful changes, RUSD’s Nutritional Services Director, Rodney Taylor, sought to find a leader to head the Catering Department and support RUSD’s vision to promote better nutrition for students. Mr. Taylor selected Chef Ryan Douglas.

Chef Douglas came on board in 2008 and currently serves as the executive chef and catering supervisor at RUSD. His functions include supervising the production of administrative meals for the school district and overseeing food preparation for the Catering Department. Prior to his employment with RUSD, he served as the culinary operations manager at the University of California, Riverside (UCR), where he supervised total day-to-day culinary operations for residential restaurant.

Douglas received his education and training from the United States Air Force (Denver, Co), Culinary Institute of America (Napa Valley, Ca and Misawa AFB, Japan) and the Effectiveness Institute, Inc. (Riverside, Ca).

Over the past four years, Douglas has seen notable changes in students’ health, which can be attributed to RUSD’s recent healthy initiatives. “I can directly affect change in the way kids in our community eat especially in the African American and Hispanic communities. As a professional chef, I have a positive influence on changing the perception of school food,” said Douglas.

In June 2012, Douglas had the honor of meeting First Lady Obama as one of the guest chefs invited to the White House to help launch Mrs. Obama’s Let’s Move! Campaign to end childhood obesity. As many as 500 chefs from 37 states participated in the event held on the South Lawn of the White House. The participants were challenged to help children make healthier choices.

In addition to the special task of helping children make healthier choices at RUSD, Douglas is also working locally with the Riverside County Department of Social Services to produce a video program that aims to help low income families enrolled in CalFresh to prepare healthy meals for their loved ones. CalFresh is the federal food stamp program.

“RUSD Nutrition Services had the opportunity to Partner with Riverside Department of Public Social Services to produce 7 cooking videos for CalFresh recipients. All of the nutrition classes and cooking videos were produced by RUSD high school students featuring myself. The filming of the videos was very exciting. Not only was it a live production set, but the interaction with the kid actors was great,” said Douglas.

Douglas’ mother inspired him to become a professional chef. “I learned to cook from my mom. She is no doubt and by far the best cook I have seen, and I have seen cooks and chefs from all around the world,” said Douglas.

Douglas grew up in Pasadena with his four siblings: Rodney (his twin brother), Russell, Eric, and Orin. He met his wife Lisa when they were in the military. They have been married for 27 years. They have three children, Magen, Nichole and Ryan Jr. and four grandchildren, Jeremiah, Julian, Kyrie, and Brooklyn (twins). Douglas and his wife serve as a deacon and deaconess to their church.

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