Crouse to guide Linn R-2 food services back to in-house cooking

By Neal A. Johnson, UD Editor
Posted 8/9/23

LINN   — Linn R-2 Food Services Director Kelley Crouse is pleased to guide the school’s return to in-house meal preparation after a period with a third-party company.

“I …

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Crouse to guide Linn R-2 food services back to in-house cooking


LINN  — Linn R-2 Food Services Director Kelley Crouse is pleased to guide the school’s return to in-house meal preparation after a period with a third-party company.

“I am excited to join the team at Linn and look forward to providing a great breakfast and lunch experience to our students and staff,” said Crouse, who had been the kitchen manager with Jefferson City High School for several years.

All of her experience has been with high school students, so moving to a district with responsibility for the entire campus is new to Crouse. However, she spent time watching the process in each of Jefferson City’s elementary cafeterias when she worked in the board office.

Crouse grew up learning the food business. “My parents owned a vending company and ran a cafeteria at the Wilson Foods Hog Processing Plant,” she said. “I started working in seventh grade, so I’ve spent most of my life in food service. I love it.”

One difference students will notice is the quality of the food. “I believe in batch cooking,” said Crouse. “I don’t like having all the food cooked up and sitting in the warmer at 830 in the morning waiting until lunchtime. A lot of people do that. That’s probably what happened here.”

Menu items change daily, with one option for elementary and two for high school. “Elementary teachers told me the younger kids have a tough time making decisions, so we’re going to limit the options to one,” Crouse said. “We will probably give the older elementary kids a second choice. Students only get 20 minutes to eat, so it makes a difference to have food hot and ready and keep it simple.”

High school students will have the same base option as the elementary, but a second choice will be available.

Sometimes, a student doesn’t want what’s offered by the kitchen, but Crouse has a plan for that. “I’m gonna make wraps and deli sandwiches to keep up there, so if they don’t like what’s on the hot menu, they know there’s something in the cooler,” she explained.

Breakfast will include something hot every day — including Crouse’s homemade gravy to go over biscuits — along with fruit, cereal, and granola bars.

Crouse hopes the approximately 60 teachers at Linn will give the cafeteria a fair shake. “If the teachers eat, the kids will think, ‘whoa, they’re eating there too.’ A little reassurance doesn’t hurt,” she added.

While at JCPS, Crouse prepared about 1,000 servings every day for lunch. “Some of the bigger boys would get two or three entrees,” she said. “We started around 800, but a lot of them got extras.”

At Linn, she expects to prepare about 700 servings. “We’ve got football here, and those boys are big,” said Crouse. “They need more food to get through the day.”

Batch cooking lends itself to the idea of making sure those who want extras can get them. “That’s why I like doing the homemade thing,” Crouse said. “Spaghetti, for example. You could give him a little extra on the plate, and it doesn’t affect your overall production because you’re not cooking a designated number of services, and that’s it. I like to be flexible.”

Crouse loves to interact with students and looks forward to getting to know them. “Some of the kids in Jeff had nicknames based on what they ate,” she added. “I think we’ll wind up with some of that here. One of the hardest parts of leaving Jefferson City was not seeing the kids every day, but there will be new connections to make here.”

Crouse received the “Difference Maker” award while at JCPS. “She is known for not only her ability to create great food but to go above and beyond to make sure students and staff have an awesome cafeteria experience with a smile while at school,” said Superintendent Bob James, who worked with Crouse in Jefferson City before taking the helm at Linn.

Crouse understands the role the cafeteria plays in a student’s daily life. “When I first was manager, the librarians made me a t-shirt that said, ‘The kitchen is the heart of the school.’ That’s what it should be; this should be everybody’s happy place.”

Crouse said she is open to suggestions from the community about menu items.

On Aug. 17, Crouse and her staff plan to cook breakfast and lunch for staff members who will be there for meetings. “We want to work out any bugs before school starts on Aug. 22,” she said.