Saturday, January 10, 2015

Followup to my Edutopia Post: School lunch... change it for the better

We can do better.
What we eat and how we eat it are pretty important things to learn to do well.

Unfortunately both practices are heavily marginalized in far too many schools. Fuel up very quickly in the caf, often on pretty lousy food and take one health class your Freshman year that talks about eating well... and that's about it.

Sarcastic... but often true in many schools that I've visited.

What we eat, how we eat it, and what else we learn about food in schools is just one of many pieces of the puzzle that need a fresh start to rethink how we educate students.

I applaud kids recent efforts to post pictures of their grim school lunches via Twitter or Instagram. It's great to see kids speak up and have a voice on the quality of their school lunches - or lack thereof. Most often these posts are a wakeup call to the community, school teachers, and officials - once they get exposed. Those programs exposed online often follow with statements from administrators or school board members of "sorry, we didn't know it'd had gotten this bad." Those statements tell me one thing... the adults are not often in the cafeteria, or if they are they are focused on discipline in that space and not what's really going on at a deeper level.

Government subsidized processed chicken patties and burgers, reheated fries, sugar laden drinks, and ice cream bars. Unappealing, unhealthy stuff often shrouded in "best we can do with what we have" statements.

There's a shining light in this field though... It's different at the Calhoun School in Manhattan, NYC.

While on sabbatical I took my second visit to the Calhoun School in Manhattan, NYC to look more deeply at their food program called 'Eat Right Now.'

What does your school lunch look like?
The wealthy private school in Manhattan, NYC connotation Calhoun carries can prevent schools from looking more deeply at their food program... and that'd be a mistake.

At $3.12 per student per day, they offer an incredible range of healthy food. While their entrees are strictly portioned controlled, their 'quantity' comes from fruit, fresh vegetables, yogurt, and a wide variety of healthy drinks. Yogurt, fresh fruit, and drinks are available all day.

Yes, all day.

The line of students after school at Calhoun involved in sports and extra-curricular activities for a 'pick-me-up' snack at the end of the day was pretty impressive. The kids I spoke with who filed in for the end of day snacks, were very appreciative.

Chef Robert 'Bobo' Searles chose that price point at Calhoun - actually his price point is $3.25 but they are currently running at $3.12 (they save the extra money to do even more special culinary things), and the school makes it a priority.

Quality food and food education is a priority at Calhoun. That's a very refreshing approach, and one that will benefit kids and our society far, far into the future.

My meal at Calhoun the day I visited, pictured above...

Mexican lasagna (vegetarian or with beef),wrap with tomato and fresh avocado, salad with pico de gallo and cilantro lime vinaigrette dressing (my choice that day of many). All prepared fresh from scratch - including the salad dressing. All delicious and all served by the chefs who made it.

Salad and fruit... was all you can eat. Great emphasis, don't you think?

In summary... most schools choose 'food service program.' Fuel up, get back to work.

Food service programs vs Culinary Dining and Education Program

The 'Eat Right Now' initiative at Calhoun is the best program I've found in the country to integrate the importance of 'food, eating, and making healthy choices' into kids lives in while in school.  It's not just in the numbers... it's how they do it too.

It was  tough to summarize this culinary program at Calhoun in 1000 words or less in the article I wrote recently for Edutopia, but it serves as a decent intro. There's so much more to the food program at Calhoun... community service efforts, culinary classes offered to kids in middle and high school, and many more examples of how chefs introduce kids to making healthy choices and expanding food palates. Integrating their food program with curriculum makes it even more special.

My thanks to Chef Robert 'Bobo' Searles and to Beth Kreiger for hosting me on my visit to Calhoun and my sincere gratitude for the work the school is doing on this front. Their willingness to share has helped so many.

Don't stop at shifting to a more healthier peanut butter and switching to wheat rolls. Rethink school lunch. Make it better. Get teachers and administrators in the cafeteria eating with kids to see what it's like. Make the whole process better, less rushed, and more civil.

Good benchmarks...

  • if you posted a picture of the lunch served what would people think? 
  • what are kids mostly eating in the caf? If it's chicken patties, burgers, fries and pizza... you can do better. 

Many times I've wished I could eat at Calhoun, a school, on a regular basis.  Imagine if more kids and adults felt that way about food in their school?

If you're school lunch is ok, don't stop. Make it even better. Could it be integrated into academic studies?

School lunch is one piece of the puzzle to make schools better. And it's important.


Pictures from:
The Atlantic: Helping kids eat commodities
School lunch at Calhoun: Photo by Adam Provost

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