Not your typical school lunch: Steamboat students enjoy gourmet choices |

Not your typical school lunch: Steamboat students enjoy gourmet choices

Max Huppert, nutritional services director for the Steamboat Springs School District, prepares Vietnamese chicken for the students in Steamboat Springs. Huppert, who has been wth the district for nine years, has brought variety to the local school menus with his unique and innovative approach to running the school lunch program.
John F. Russell

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — It’s a little past 8 a.m. in the kitchen at Steamboat Springs High School, and Max Huppert, the district’s nutritional services director, is surrounded by the hustle and bustle of another busy workday and the sweet aroma of soy sauce and sautéd chicken.

For the past nine years, Huppert, who studied at Baltimore International College and spent 15 years in campus dining before coming to Steamboat, is in charge of what Steamboat students eat at school, and he views his role as more than just food prep. 

“They should not just go into class and learn things,” he said. “They should also come in for lunch and learn about  new foods as part of that whole overall educational piece.”

Huppert often hangs out in the lunchrooms as food is served and it’s not unusual for him to stand somewhere near the trash cans to monitor what the students are throwing away. He also spends times talking to the students he meets about the different foods he serves them daily.

“That’s a big part of the customer service with my staff. We try to get the kids to try things, explain it to them and make them comfortable if something looks different if they have never had it before,” Huppert said.

The food Huppert and his staff serve students is not typical for school lunches. When Huppert took the job at Steamboat, one of his main goals was to create healthy, nutritious menus free from preservatives. 

“I’m actually very happy with what we are doing,” Huppert said. “The staff is proud serving the food, and especially when we go and look at what other districts are doing around the country compared to us, we are very happy. Nobody in America does what we do.”

Sure kids can still enjoy sloppy joes on Wednesdays and pizza on Fridays, but those items are made from scratch. 

“The menu changes depending on the season and what we feel like doing or if we see something that we think will work,” Huppert said. “There is a lot of research. It’s easy for me because I know all the flavor profiles, and I’ve done large batch cooking for so long and I know the ratios.”

Some of Steamboat’s recent school menu items include Jamaican jerk chicken over jasmine rice with mango chutney, Peri Peri African chicken with Ethiopian cabbage and rosemary pork with peaches over creamy polenta.

Jackie Gurr, a recent graduate from the University of Northern Colorado’s nutrition and dietetics program, is working with Huppert as part of a six-week rotation. She is currently examining the ingredients of menu items  offered by the district and measuring things like sodium and sugar against the pre-processed foods found in a normal school lunch.

‘It’s awesome,” Gurr said of the food Steamboat feeds its students.

Huppert hopes that every student who walks into one of the district’s four cafeterias gives one of his entrees a chance. But if they don’t, he also offers inspired salad bars with fresh ingredients and a deli bar with homemade bread. At the high school, students can also choose from a variety of grab-and-go, gourmet lunches.

Huppert and his staff of 10 employees prepare between 800 and 1,000 meals a day, and those meals must meet the nutritional standards set forth by the federal government and Huppert’s own lofty standards.

To reach John F. Russell, call 970-871-4209, email or follow him on Twitter @Framp1966.

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