Not your average ‘lunch lady’ Chef Jean Watson-Jones of Park Place Children’s Center prepares healthy, clean meals bursting with flavor. Serving children from 9 months to 5 years old, even the youngest child looks forward to eating Chef Jean’s food.
“Parents always ask me ‘What do you do with the broccoli they’re eating? I tried it at home. I tried it with cheese sauce. I tried it with balsamic vinegar. I tried it with this and that.’” Chef Jean serves it plain because she believes in the integrity of the flavors. “They’re being introduced to this stuff. They need to know what it tastes like before we start jazzing it up,” she continues.
On her own by age 17, Jean found her place in the Marine Corps. “They gave me everything I didn’t have then. A family, home and purpose. They even issued me a husband” she adds jokingly. Yup. It’s been 31 years of a strong marriage between Chef Jean and former Marine David Jones, who proposed on their first date in Okinawa, Japan.
Chef Jean attributes her success in the kitchen to her Marine Corps training. “Being prepared for anything that can be thrown at you. That’s where my strength lies, preparing for the masses. I’m able to approach things that I might not have a clue about, get by and figure the rest out. I have the confidence that I can do whatever I need to do.”
Her work integrity, passion, and loyalty did not go unnoticed by Cindy Weathers, local owner and operator of the Nationally Accredited Park Place Children’s Center. Working together since the inception of Park Place, Cindy allowed Jean to design and build her dream kitchen. Giving her the tools for success has resulted in a beautiful marriage between owner and chef. “Parents feel comfortable leaving their kids here,” Cindy explains. Food is a big deal and a huge part of all of our lives. It’s nice to know that parents trust Park Place to help introduce their children to good, wholesome food while expanding their palette.
On any given day, Chef Jean prepares lunch for over 200 hungry tummies.
Chicken burrito bowl with cilantro lime rice with a side of black bean, tomato avocado salad served with fresh watermelon.
What does that look like? Twenty lbs of chicken, 24 quarts of brown rice, 5 lbs of shredded cheese, 12 pounds black beans, an entire flat of cherry tomatoes, 2 dozen avocados and 5 lbs of corn. “It’s all good stuff: Springer Mountain Chicken, imported Italian pasta, non-HFCS beans and ketchup. Only the best for my babies.”
Being a master prepper, Chef Jean uses her previous experience from working at the Marriott in Spartanburg. She’s not lax on food safety and follows proper procedure washing fresh produce to prevent contamination.
“There’s no chicken nuggets here. We are so much more than that.” Being a child is not an excuse for poor eating habits. “I have parents ask 'do children really eat the food'? And I say, to be honest if you feed your children a drive thru diet, no. They are not going to enjoy it.” Parents have contacted Chef Jean for recipes their children request. She joyfully obliges.
Park Place Children’s Center is not only a tree nut free facility, but also accommodates every child’s dietary needs and restrictions. Chef Jean has spent years developing a logical program to address these needs in a consistent manner. “You know I love my babies. If I’m not 100% sure, I don’t take the chance with those children.” Everything gets labeled with name, classroom, schedule and preference. If it’s okay, it’s marked regular. If it’s not okay, it goes into a red bowl.
Having closed carts keeps the food safe from cross contamination of germs in the hallways and keeps the food warm and fresh.
Teachers eat with the children “Family Style” to encourage good eating habits and community.
According to Cindy Weathers, "Chef Jean enhances the pre-school by offering the most nutritious and delicious meals and snacks to our children. She cares deeply about the children and wants them to have a healthy variety of foods each day. She carefully plans each week's menu and parents are often amazed at what their children are served and will actually eat! Chef Jean's willingness to accommodate special diets and allergies gives parents great comfort that their children can safely enjoy anything she prepares.”
"I like to say let me do the heavy lifting for you as a parent. Some parents don’t have time or motivation to deal with it after a long day of work. I don’t want them to feel guilty for not being able to feed them like I’m feeding them. I got you covered. That’s why I am here. That’s what you’re paying for."
Thanks Cindy and Chef Jean for upholding high standards both in education and feeding our children.