On May 16, 2018, we brought our Real School Food Challenge to Denver’s Zeppelin Station for an evening with top-notch chefs and delicious dishes. Every challenge is rewarding for competitors, guests and hosts. Read on for a recap of Denver’s dishes, the inspiration behind them, and find out whose dish was deemed school-lunch worthy.
Anyone who wants to help improve school lunch nutrition can compete in a Real School Food Challenge. Parents, children, home-grown chefs, foodies, and executive-owner chefs all compete to serve up a delicious, nutritious meal that meets USDA nutritional guidelines…all on a school food budget of $1.25 per meal.
“Schools receive roughly $3.25 reimbursement for a free lunch,” explains Danielle Staunton, our Director of Strategic Partnerships. “After wages and other overhead, about $1.25 is left for food.”
What a challenge! Our four Denver competitors were ready for it though.
Hosted by Andra and Kyle Zeppelin at Big Trouble, a hip, chic upstairs bar in Denver’s latest edition to the food hall scene, Max MacKissock (Bar Dough, Señor Bear), Cindhura Reddy (Namkeen, Spuntino), Paul Reilly (Beast & Bottle, Coperta), and James Beard-winning chef Alon Shaya (opening Satfa in soon) brought their A-game and delivered four budget-friendly and creative dishes. But only one took home the winner’s plate.
Host Andra Zeppelin welcomed guests to the Challenge while the chefs put their finishing touches on their dishes and guests enjoyed signature cocktails and beverages from Suerte, Scarpetta, Infinite Monkey Theorem, and Blue Moon Brewery. And then the tasting and judging began.
MacKissock brought a team to help plate up his Yogurt Marinated Chicken dish that included a salad of greens, faro, and carrots two ways.
“We had to make a dish for $1.25, and we came in at $1.08. I thought back to what I liked to eat as a kid, and I loved carrots!”
MacKissock is one half of a well-known Denver duo with a large presence in the restaurant scene. He and his wife have nearly 10 restaurants and kitchens throughout the city.
Another big presence in Denver’s restaurant scene, Reilly prepared a Pork Gyro with Yogurt Sauce, and served apples and sunflower butter alongside it. He was happy and excited to bring his team to the Challenge, especially because he has children of his own, who inspired his dish:
“We’re here to help support school lunches. I think every kid has got to have a healthier lunch, and we can help be a part of the solution of that. I thought of my own kids and what they could be eating at school to create my dish.”
Reddy took a creative approach in presentation by plating up each guest’s dish as they came to her table.
“I want you to have the real lunch line experience, and get to eat hot, fresh, good food from it,” Reddy explained. Taking influences from both Namkeen, where she serves Indian street food inspired dishes, and Spuntino, which captures the essence of Italian simplicity and home, Reddy prepared a Braised Chicken Thigh with Creamy Polenta.
But the kudos of the night go to Shaya, who whipped up hummus topped with a flavorful hearty stew made from tomatoes, chicken, and peas. To round out the dish he served it with a thick slice of fresh whole grain bread and finished the meal with a banana “ice cream,” made from frozen blended bananas with a dash of milk. Children at the event came back for seconds, and at one point, the line backed up while Shaya prepared more hummus.
Shaya is no stranger to school food. Not feeling a pull towards college, he found his home in culinary school, and then decided to share his story with high schoolers. He started the Shaya Barnett Initiative to help bring culinary education back to high school and to make sure high schoolers know of this viable career path. Shaya recognizes the benefit of teaching students how to eat and how to cook from a young age.
“I’m so excited to help figure out creative ways to get really healthy school lunches for every single child in America.”
We celebrated the winner with dessert from Gelato Boy and thanked our guests for their support in our work to help schools serve the best meals possible made from fresh, whole ingredients.
Competitor Reddy said it well: “School funding is an important topic right now, and if you’re going to start somewhere, why not start with nutrition?”
When we feed our children well, they do better in school, they are set up for success in life, and they learn how to eat well for the rest of their lives.
You can host a Challenge of your own to raise awareness and support for changing the way we feed our kids! Gather competitors together, use our toolkit to provide them with the guidelines needed to make a school meal, invite your guests, and then eat, drink, and let guests decide which meal makes the grade. Visit the Real School Food Challenge page to learn more and contact us today to get involved.]]>
By: Kate Olender
People from all walks of life value school salad bars, which allow students to choose a variety of healthy, fresh fruits and vegetables to fill their plates. But there’s one group that lives and breathes fresh fruits and veggies all day, every day – and they’ve turned raising money for school salad bars into an annual event.
This year, the fresh fruit and vegetable industry celebrates its fifth annual Tour de Fresh bike ride, a four-day, 275-mile cycling event that engages those who work in the produce industry to donate toward bringing more salad bars to schools across the country. The California Giant Foundation hosts the event, working closely with the United Fresh Start Foundation, a founding partner of the national Salad Bars to Schools initiative.
“Everyone in our industry is committed to working hard, so families and children across the country can easily access fresh, healthy fruits and vegetables,” said Cindy Jewell, Vice President of Marketing for California Giant Berry Farms and current Chairman of the United Fresh Produce Association. “Tour de Fresh is just one way our industry has come together to make sure kids can select and enjoy those fruits and veggies at school,” she says.
Through Tour de Fresh, the fresh fruit and vegetable industry has raised more than $600,000 for school salad bars since 2014, and aims to finance at least 50 more salad bars through the upcoming July 2018 ride. This year, riders are concentrating the impact of their contributions by raising funds to support salad bars in four school districts in different parts of the country: California, Colorado, Texas, and Virginia. These districts have requested 10 or more salad bars, allowing the industry to increase children’s access to fresh fruits and vegetables across an entire district.
“No one – especially kids – should have to struggle to think about where their next meal will come from, and from our perspective, giving kids the ability to choose fresh fruits and veggies, whether from a school salad bar or elsewhere, is an important step toward better nutrition,” says Andrew Marshall, Director of Foundation Programs & Partnerships at the United Fresh Produce Association. “Tour de Fresh harnesses the power of the produce industry, companies and individuals, to give back in a way that’s fun and that also makes a real impact, once the salad bar is installed in a school.”
Tour de Fresh showcases the magic of partnerships at their best. Together, Tour de Fresh riders and supporters, are helping ensure children grow up knowing the joys and benefits of choosing fresh fruits and veggies.]]>
With applications from school districts across the country, the selection process for our Get Schools Cooking 2018 cohort was difficult. We had many districts to choose from and spent time closely reviewing each application and interviewing top candidates. Each selected district demonstrates the passion, drive and ability to create real school food change. As the school year wraps up, Chef Ann Foundation is looking forward to school food transformation with a new cohort of districts. We are excited to announce the recipients of the 2018 Get Schools Cooking program. Read on to learn a little more about the program and each of the selected districts.
Get Schools Cooking is Chef Ann Foundation’s most comprehensive program. Through this program, we work with school districts to transition their food service operations from heat-and-serve processed foods to whole foods that are cooked from scratch. The program supports districts through this process starting with a workshop in Boulder, CO, followed by an assessment of their current operations, strategic planning to develop next steps, continued support and more. You can read more about program details here.
In collaboration with our partners at Whole Kids Foundation, we look forward to working with the following school districts on improving their meal programs:
Caroline County Public Schools operates a food service program with an emphasis on local food and manages a Culinary Arts Center that offers culinary classes and catering for the district. Get Schools Cooking and the assessment process will provide the district with a fresh set of eyes and guidance on how the district can do even more.
“I feel with your organization’s expertise and passion, we will able to propel my district to the next level.” ~Beth Brewster, Food Service Supervisor
With a central kitchen that preps and cooks all food for their nine school sites, Goleta is looking forward to the support the program can provide them in furthering their scratch cook operation. The district already offers some scratch items but hopes that Get Schools Cooking will help them reach their goal of a fully cook from scratch operation.
“I want to elevate school food and change the way people view food in the cafeteria.” ~Kim Leung, Registered Dietitian, Food Services Director
After spending the last five years making big changes to their program, Marysville Joint Unified School District feels they could use Get Schools Cooking’s support on improving their program even more. They are excited to enhance their menus and expand their number of scratch cooked offerings!
Having recently moved to a self-operated model, Napa Valley Unified School District has already made great strides in their meal program including the implementation of salad bars in all 30 schools. However, as they begin work on a central kitchen and adding more scratch cooked options, Get Schools Cooking will help them continue their work, leading to better food for students.
“The GSC grant will give us the support and mentoring that we need to move our program to the next level and continue to focus on only the best food for the Napa Valley Unified students.” ~Brandy Dreibelbis, Director of Food Services
The Get Schools Cooking partnership is excited to welcome these four districts to the program and looks forward to starting our work together on school food reform. They are joining a group of dedicated and passionate school districts leading the way in school food change. These previous cohorts already show progress and success, such as implementing salad bars, removing chicken patties and nuggets, and increasing their amount of local purchases. When it comes to makeovers, the Get Schools Cooking program is the initiative that takes school districts all the way, supporting them in bringing delicious and nutritious food to students.]]>
What makes for a good partnership? After spending many years of my career helping create and maintain strategic business partnerships, I find that there’s one thing that makes for a really good match, the kind that seems like a natural fit and gels together easily: aligning missions. When missions are in alignment, everything else flows organically, and collaborations are set up for success. Three years ago, Chef Ann Foundation began a partnership with Life Time Foundation built on common missions, and what a success it has been!
Both organizations play pivotal roles in school food reform, which didn’t necessarily mean we would get along easily or that our missions would align nicely. Our mission is to provide school communities with the tools, training, resources, and funding that enables them to create healthier food and redefine lunchroom environments. When we met the Life Time Foundation team, we learned about their mission to remove the Harmful 7* from school food because they believe that school food should feed children’s brains and bodies, not harm them. We quickly realized we were on the same page when it comes to school food reform—both of us care about what goes into the food our children eat.
One way we fulfil our mission is by helping school districts transform their school food operations. We break down the process into smaller, achievable goals and support schools as they say goodbye to serving highly processed heat-and-serve school lunches and hello to cooking on site and serving meals made from scratch. Once schools make that switch, they open themselves to the power of purchasing; when schools prepare food themselves, they get to decide what does—and doesn’t—go into those meals. Another way to look at this is when schools cook from scratch, they have a much easier pathway to removing the Harmful 7.
Consider the chicken nugget, for example. When schools that operate a heat-and-serve production purchase chicken nuggets, they get the nugget along with a panel of 30 ingredients they didn’t get to choose, like preservatives or artificial flavors and colors. But, if schools prepare their own chicken entrees in-house, they can chose their raw meat provider, use whole muscle chicken, and avoid those Harmful 7!
Now how is that for mission alignment!
With only about $1.25 per meal for food costs, cooking from scratch and removing the Harmful 7 is quite the tall order. Without much to spend, our pocketbooks often require us to rely on those harmful ingredients to cut costs. Nevertheless, as soon as we met, we were all determined to see how Chef Ann Foundation and Life Time Foundation could team up and make it happen. Since then, we’ve been working together to help schools switch to scratch-made meals and gain the ability to control their ingredients and eliminate the Harmful 7.
One of the biggest ways Life Time Foundation contributes to our successful partnership is by keeping The Lunch Box updated, running and free for all schools. The Lunch Box is an online treasure chest of resources and tools, like recipes, marketing materials, business forms, and how-to guides, available to schools working to cook from scratch and serve healthier, fresher, better food to our children. The Lunch Box is a key ingredient for school food success, but it wouldn’t be available to schools if Chef Ann Foundation and Life Time Foundation didn’t have a great partnership!
Cheers to finding those perfect mates and collaborating to carry out common missions!
*The Harmful 7 Ingredients of Concern are: trans-fats and hydrogenated oils, high-fructose corn syrup, hormones and antibiotics, processed and artificial sweeteners, artificial colors and flavors, artificial preservatives, and bleached flour.]]>
While working to serve better meals in schools, food service programs face a wide range of challenges. One of the biggest needs is equipment to ensure food is properly stored, cooked, cooled, and transported. This equipment can be costly for schools to procure and maintain. If schools want to prepare meals using ingredients like fresh greens, vegetables, whole grains, raw proteins, and dried legumes, they must have the right tools for the job. And when schools have the proper equipment, all kinds of positive results emerge.
Equipment used in school kitchens is often very different than what you might find in an average home kitchen. School districts require equipment that can handle much larger quantities of food such as industrial-sized food processors, walk-in refrigerators, tilting braising pans, and various types of ovens. When schools purchase new equipment to support their programs they can boost staff efficiency, increase student participation, reduce staff stress, and even increase their ability to purchase local ingredients and expand menus. This blog highlights how 5 districts were able to up the ante in their food service department thanks to new kitchen equipment.
At St. Tammany Parish in Covington, Louisiana, a new food processor means staff can now chop more fresh vegetables faster and more uniformly. The rotisserie ovens at Riverside Unified School District in California enable staff to “set it and forget it.” Staff can load up to 35-40 whole chickens for the district’s middle and high schools and leave the ovens to do the work while they prepare other dishes.
The ovens also provide an additional benefit that is a testament to the power of providing high quality food to students every day: the smell of freshly cooked food! Students love the home-cooking aromas that flood the lunchroom when those ovens are working. Nutrition Services Interim Director Kirsten Roloson, reported that students, “feel like they are important and that we care about them.” The time and effort staff put into their meals really show students that they are valued and that someone cares.
Similar to the new food processor in Louisiana and the ovens in California, a new soak sink at Dallas Independent School District in Texas increased their ability to wash fresh lettuce for salads. With their increased efficiency, Dallas Independent increased their power to purchase local ingredients and now sources greens from local hydroponic farmers.
Hinsdale Public Schools in Montana also increased their local purchases when they solved a stressful workplace problem: their equipment was terribly unreliable. As a result, extra work was needed to monitor the equipment, even when school was not in session. This problem was solved with the purchase of a new walk-in cooler/freezer. With a new walk-in cooler/freezer, staff are confident about the quality of the food they are serving and don’t have to worry about food spoiling or equipment breaking down in the middle of service. Their cooler/freezer shut the door on workplace stress and opened doors to stocking up on local ingredients. They now serve 100% local beef and pork. And the best part? They cut down on food waste! Instead of throwing away left-over meat, they now store it in their new cooler/freezer and use it in soups and stews.
New, fully-functional equipment can also help drive program participation. When schools have to cook with inadequate or dysfunctional equipment, they are forced to serve lower quality food that is unappetizing to students, and participation rates drop. Mountain View Whisman School District in California faced this problem due to poorly functioning ovens. With new ovens that cook food consistently, their food has more flavor and is visually appealing to students. The new equipment has also allowed the district to expand their menu to include omelet egg rounds, roasted meats, and pasta dishes.
When districts have the ability to purchase kitchen equipment, food service programs can incorporate more scratch cooking into their operations, and the impact of one single purchase extends throughout school food operations. Schools increase their ability to make local purchases and make their workplaces less stressful and more efficient. They can also serve better food and expand their menus, which means students are eating more freshly roasted produce, locally braised meats, and produce from colorful salad bars. As a 2013 PEW Charitable Trusts study pointed out, “schools would be better able to serve meals that meet nutrition requirements if investments were made in new equipment.” And these stories from school districts across the country show just that. Equipment might be only one factor schools need to consider as they incorporate more fresh and whole ingredients into their menus, but it is an essential component with far-reaching impacts.
Photos Courtesy of Riverside Unified School District, Hinsdale Public Schools and St. Tammany Parish School District
By Faith Akgun
This blog has been republished with the permission of Salad Bars to Schools. View the original post here.
When Kayla Leu joined Iowa’s Bettendorf Community School District as Director of Nutrition Services, there were already existing salad bars in the district’s middle and high schools. She quickly set out to provide the same resource for the district’s elementary schools as well. By 2017 she had made great progress, receiving four salad bars from Salad Bar to Schools and successfully incorporating them into the district’s meal program.
When the idea of salad bars at the elementary schools was first in the works, a meeting was held with cafeteria staff. Initially, the staff had concerns, worrying they wouldn’t have enough time to prep or that they would have trouble ensuring students were taking appropriate portions of fruits and vegetables. However, they took solace in the fact that the middle and high schools had experienced such success with their salad bars. As the salad bars were implemented at the elementary schools, staff quickly realized their work load did not increase. In fact, the salad bar allowed them to prep fruits and vegetables in bulk rather than in pre-portioned plastic cups. By eliminating the pre-portioned cups, they were also able to reduce their waste stream.
When the district introduced the salad bars to the elementary schools, Director Leu strategically organized the salad bars to keep students moving through the lines as quickly as possible. First, students receive their main entrée. Then they go through the salad bar line and serve themselves a variety of fresh produce. A staff member stands at the end of the line to make sure students take the appropriate portions of fresh fruits and vegetables. At first, the line moved slowly as the students got used to the salad bar. Within a few days though, the students got the hang of the salad bar, and the line returned to normal speed. Director Leu recounts, “The staff and the students took to the salad bar line quickly. We were all pleasantly surprised to see how quickly the operation picked up speed amongst our elementary schools.”
The district also cycles out their menus throughout the schools to help streamline their service and procurement process. Monday’s menu at the elementary school is Tuesday’s menu at the middle school and high school. Each day, there are at least two varieties of fruits and two varieties of vegetables at the salad bar. Some of the students’ favorites include fresh strawberries and grapes.
Director Leu has been very pleased with the Salad Bars to Schools grant experience and the way the students have responded to the new salad bars. They love exploring the choices available to them on the salad bar and having the agency to serve themselves. She explains, “They enjoy making their own choices. This is something they get to control and do on their own. If they want all grapes, or if they want strawberries and broccoli, they can make that decision. The kids love the independence to choose what they want to put on their tray.” Director Leu is in the process of applying for Salad Bar to Schools grants for the remainder of the district’s elementary schools, and she looks forward to having salad bars in all schools.
Salad bar donations were made possible by Warden Hutterian Brethren and Potatoes USA.]]>
2018 rushed in with quite a bang. The Chef Ann Foundation team hit the ground running with an ambitious agenda to reach more. More districts, more schools, more kids.
As I started to write this blog, I took stock and realized just how incredible it is that we have a team and organizational structure capable of taking on the quality and quantity of work that is instore for us in 2018. I can remember back to when I started my work here in 2013. Four of us were working remotely from our homes trying to build awareness for school food reform and keeping up with the demand from district leaders who were passionate about a new way of looking at school food operations. And now we are nine team members strong and it’s no longer a small group of schools leading school food reform in our country.
Charging into 2018 we are raring to go and ready to take on the following work in 2018:
Looking at the work ahead of us in 2018, we are inspired and motivated that schools across the country are so engaged in making change. We know that the tide is continuing to move because we see how many people visit the Lunchbox.org for support materials, we see how many schools are applying for our grants, and we hear from schools that are pushing forward with change.
Schools in our Get Schools Cooking 2016 cohort are making big progress:
Buford City Schools in GA reduced their flavored milk offerings.
Watertown Public Schools in MA eliminated all ice cream and frozen desserts, and they replaced some processed meat products by introducing whole muscle chicken.
Bellingham Public schools in WA made a commitment to serving better school food through Bellingham Good Food Promise, a comprehensive outline that articulates the district’s key food values, and they are working to implement them through food education campaigns, by placing salad bars in every schools, and purchasing whole muscle chicken, and they are building a central cooking kitchen scheduled to open in 2019.
Our Project Produce grantees are using the lunchroom fruit and vegetable educational tasting as the impetus for change in their food program:
Diamond Lake School District in IL demonstrated to district administration the importance and impact of fresh fruits and vegetables and proved that students will eat them, which prompted the scheduling of a strategic planning session to implement more scratch cooking and continued fruit and vegetable tastings.
Cincinnati Public Schools in OH used their grant to support Cultural Celebration Days, which offered students the opportunity to expand their palates, lean about unfamiliar fruits and vegetables, and explore world cultures. Because of the celebrations, the district added new items to their salad bars, like jicama, avocado, and beets, they shifted away from steamed vegetables and now offer fresh roasted vegetables, and they made a commitment to serving more diverse options to students, including Mediterranean, Indian, and German cuisines.
Having supported the donation of now over 5,000 salad bars in schools we are also seeing great trends here. In our most recent evaluations, 70% of schools reported seeing an increase in school lunch participation after implementing salad bars. 65% of schools decreased their canned fruit and vegetable purchases, and 85% of schools increased their fruit and vegetable procurement.
The train is moving. If your school district is not talking about healthier food, you probably want to hop aboard and keep up the pace. Don’t fall behind and miss out on opportunities to improve school food and play a powerful role in leading by example to create change.
We are not even through the first quarter and 2018 already has a lot going on across the country. With so much happening, we have great need to remain focused on our long-term goals, no matter what change we are supporting and creating. My team and I remain focused on school food reform because of the need to continue supporting long-term solutions. We have many immediate needs right now in our country, and we know that small bandages do not help heal the gaping wounds. If we dig in deep to create systemic change, we can heal those wounds, and we won’t find ourselves with the same problems to solve in 10 or 15 years.
Fixing school food is not an overnight endeavor. Nearly eight years have gone by since the Healthy Hunger Free Kids Act passed. It was the most progressive school food nutrition legislation we’ve seen, and getting it through congress took dedication, patience, persistence, and collaboration. But we did it. Our next steps will take just as much work and just as much time.
We all know that a balanced diet filled with fresh healthy food gives you the foundation to support success. We all know that when you eat a piece of broccoli, as opposed to canned pears in syrup, your body will perform better. We all know that children are born into circumstances, and that ALL kids deserve access to food that will help them thrive and meet their potential. This work will and should continue, and the Chef Ann Foundation will stay focused and determined to ensure all children have daily access to fresh, healthy food in schools.
Bring on 2018!]]>
By Faith Akgun
This blog has been republished with the permission of Salad Bars to Schools. View the original post here.
When Peggy Bodnar became the Food & Nutrition Services Supervisor at Boise School District in 2007, she was inheriting a progressive school lunch program that was already profoundly committed to improving the health and wellness of their students. Ten years prior to her arrival at the district, her predecessor had already started implementing salad bars in their elementary schools. This environment provided Ms. Bodnar the support and foundation she needed to keep pushing her district towards a better way of feeding their students.
Naturally, Ms. Bodnar wanted to bring salad bars to the secondary schools. She heard about the Salad Bar to Schools grant program and in 2016, received salad bars at all eight junior high schools in the Boise School District. Since the salad bars were already successful at their elementary schools, it was a smooth transition to implement salad bars at the junior highs. The cafeteria staff was familiar with the procurement process, fresh produce preparation and operation needed. The salad bars even lightened the staff’s workload. They had previously portioned out cups of fruit and vegetables prior to service. Once the salad bars arrived, they were able to prep the food in bulk. It also eliminated a significant portion of waste that was created by the pre-portioned cups.
Implementing the salad bar has been a great way for the district to meet the USDA food color variety standards. Each day, students have the opportunity to choose from eight items available at the salad bar; fresh fruit, two varieties of lettuce mix, and an assortment of toppings, such as legumes, tomatoes, carrots, zucchini slices, and more.
Ms. Bodnar says she draws inspiration from the philosophy of food guru and Registered Dietitian Ellyn Satter. Satter stresses the division of responsibility when it comes to feeding children. Adults are responsible for providing options, and children are given the responsibility and freedom to choose from what has been provided. Ms. Bodnar explains, “It’s really about providing kids with healthy choices and letting them choose. They surprise you when there’s healthy foods available.” She noted that the district has found great success in the practice of students self-serving. Rather than dictating what their food and vegetable choices are, the students are empowered to make their own choices and are in turn more excited about what is on their plate.
Over the course of the program, Ms. Bodnar was impressed by the engagement surrounding Salad Bar to Schools. She found that the support from everyone involved made the grant easy, enjoyable, and a great learning experience. Representatives from some of the district’s salad bar funders, including the Idaho Potato Commission and Tour de Fresh, even came out to visit the schools. Ms. Bodnar explains how refreshing it has been to receive this level of support throughout the grant process, “School lunch programs get bad raps. But they’ve come so far in the past five to ten years. Through programs like Salad Bars to Schools it’s like someone is saying to you, ‘We know you have a challenge, let us help,’ rather than being critical to what you are doing.”]]>
Feeding school children entails a great deal of responsibility and offers the power of choice to school districts. While it might be obvious that school food choices impact the health and academic performance of students, these choices also impact our economy and the health of our planet. Over 30 million children eat school lunch every day, which means that making responsible choices in school food creates a sizeable and lasting impact.
To enable schools to make a positive environmental impact through school lunch offerings and to teach students the benefits of making more plant forward meal choices in and out of school, we got to work crafting new recipes, developing new promotional materials, and gathering resources. Our end result is More Plants Please! a plant forward initiative we are proud to launch on The Lunch Box.
Plant forward meals are not about changing an entire meal program, but focus on offering healthy and environmentally-friendly options on a scale that is easily attainable for foodservice staff. At Chef Ann Foundation, we consider a recipe to be plant forward if it is one of the following:
All of our plant forward recipes meet USDA guidelines, were tested in school kitchens, and were approved by students so that schools can serve more plants more easily. Our new plant forward recipes also use plant-based proteins, like the chickpeas in Chickpea Masala and the tofu in Pineapple Fried rice, to provide students protein-packed dishes that help them stay full and thrive in the classroom.
After adding new recipes and identifying existing plant forward recipes, we grouped recipes together to create compliant menu cycles focused on reducing meat-based proteins. The recipes in these menu cycles still include meals like Sesame Chicken, but the meat-based dishes are balanced with plant forward meals across the cycle to avoid offering only meat-based options.
To help school food service directors educate and communicate about plant forward meals with their school communities, we created lunchroom posters and flyers for staff and families. The posters encourage students to make responsible, informed decisions by introducing them to alternative protein sources and teaching them how their meal choices affect the planet and their long-term health. For example, one poster illustrates the environmental impacts of eating plant-based proteins, while another guides students through building nutritious lunches from whole grains, fresh fruits and vegetables, and plant-based proteins.
The two flyers include one to send around to staff and another for home. The flyer to staff explains the why, what, and how of serving plant forward meals so that staff members can choose to eat more plant-based foods and encourage students to do so too. The take home flyer helps students bring their lunch time habits home to their families by providing a roadmap to making one-bowl meals with whole grains, fresh vegetables, and plant-based proteins.
More Plants Please! recipes, menu cycles, and resources help schools make responsible and powerful decisions. “When you combine knowledge about the impact of meat-based proteins on the planet with the great responsibility of feeding students, these plant forward recipes become the natural choice,” explained Director of Food and Nutrition Services for Novato Unified School District Miguel Villarreal in a recent interview.
Even if a school can only offer a few plant forward meals, they make a substantial impact because so many children eat school lunch each day, and because when we introduce children to new foods and new ways of eating, we help them cultivate healthy habits that last a lifetime.
“Schools can be a partner to parents in introducing new foods that become the basis for a lifetime of healthy choices,” commented Nona Evans, President of Whole Kids Foundation, which works to improve child nutrition and partnered with us to bring More Plants Please! to schools.
Feel empowered to make responsible decisions with More Plants Please! Check out the free recipes, promotional materials and additional resources available on The Lunch Box today!]]>
By Laura Peuquet
While the health of America’s youth has been part of political and public conversations for some time, the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act (HHFKA) brought school food nutrition to the national forefront and paved the way for significant progress towards better school food. It raised the nutritional standards, but food manufacturers simply altered their ingredients and many schools kept serving highly processed food. The next step towards better school food is making scratch-cooked meals from fresh ingredients that kids want to eat, meals that provide the building blocks for a lifetime of better eating habits. Whether you have championed this issue or witnessed a fellow community member lead the charge, you likely heard, “Schools don’t have enough money for that.”
Turns out, school food budgets have stayed relatively stable since HHFKA. A 2014 study published in the Journal of American Nutrition and Dietetics examined the impacts of switching to scratch-cooked operations and found that although labor costs rise, they are offset by lower food costs.
It also turns out that the transition from heat and serve meals to scratch-cooked operations requires a lot of change and resources, but with the right help and support, it happens. After two years of success supporting 11 school districts, Get Schools Cooking (GSC) applications opened again on Jan 19, 2018 to help schools get that support and make the transition happen. Applications will remain open through March 1, 2018. Visionary for GSC, Chef Ann said, “This is the most exciting time for me because I get to see which districts apply and who wants to make change.”
Chef Ann Foundation and Whole Kids Foundation partner on GSC, a comprehensive three-year program that puts school districts on a fast-track to serving healthy, whole, nutritious meals made from scratch. The fabric of the program was built from Chef Ann’s 20-plus years of experience in school food operations. It provides an on-site operational assessment, strategic planning, a $50,000 systems grant to cover things like equipment, staff training, and data solutions, and continued technical support to implement the strategic plan.
Nationally recognized school food experts, Chef Ann and Chef Beth Collins visit and assess each school district and their sites to provide customized strategic plans for implementing scratch cooking across five key areas: food, finance, facilities, human resources, and marketing. These assessments are thorough and can last over a week to ensure that Chef Ann and Chef Beth can provide an accurate and achievable strategic plan.
In addition to providing assessment and strategy, GSC uses a cohort model to bring school districts together in their journey to scratch-made meals. This streamlined process enables peer-to-peer support, keeps schools on pace, and uses resources efficiently.
Since 2016, 109 schools in 11 states started transforming their school food operations. Schools are continuing to eliminate highly processed foods, like meat nuggets, patties, and crumbles, and they are introducing new recipes using fresh, whole fruits and vegetables. They are also adding raw proteins like beef, chicken, and fish to their menus. New equipment— salad bars, food processors, ovens— is being placed in school kitchens, and staff are receiving training. Students are still enjoying favorites like mac and cheese, pizza, and tacos, and now they are being made from scratch with healthier ingredients.
“The benefits of making the switch to scratch cooking in schools are far reaching, and they far outweigh any growing pains of change,” says Nona Evans, President of the Whole Kids Foundation.
According to a 2016 report from the Pew Charitable Trusts, school food directors report steady or increased participation in school lunch programs and stable or rising revenue after implementing more scratch cooking. Beyond schools, scratch cooking promotes local economic growth. It provides more jobs, and give schools the ability to purchase more ingredients locally.
Recognizing these economic benefits, more states are proposing legislation that rewards schools for local food purchases, like NY Governor Cuomo’s recently proposed legislation that includes increasing state reimbursements for schools purchasing at least 30 percent of their ingredients within the state.
While these progressive policies yield the promised local economic growth and are targeted to provide food to students who otherwise might not eat at all, these policies overlook one fact: schools need to cook to take advantage of the local procurement incentives. Schools running heat and serve operations with frozen processed food have limited opportunity to purchase locally.
With the help of GSC, schools can get on track to transition to scratch-cooking operations to reap the benefits: healthier students with full bellies who are ready and able to learn, a stronger local economy, and a future of healthy eaters.
Register for our webinar on February 8, 2018 to learn more from Chef Cooper and speak with current grant recipient and Nutritional Services Supervisor for Tempe Elementary School District Emma Kitzman.
Read more information and apply on the Get Schools Cooking page.]]>