Not your parents’ school lunch

By FoodCorps Service Member Emily Horowitz for the Julian News

Everything you think you know about school lunch is wrong. There is no grumpy old lunch lady plopping slop onto styrofoam trays of hungry students, no half-frozen cardboard pizzas or lumpy mystery meat specials. School lunch has had a bad rap for over 50 years — rightfully so in some cases — but with new USDA nutrition standards and policy shifts, school lunch has been changing for the better.

At Julian Elementary School and Julian Junior High School, we are incredibly lucky to have school lunch made by chefs Donald and Shirley Hooper at the local restaurant Jeremy’s on the Hill. As parents to a first grader and a pre-schooler, creating delicious, locally sourced kid-friendly meals is a personal matter for the Hoopers. Donald has transformed Jeremy’s On the Campus lunch program by sourcing the most local ingredients he can find with the help of the generous suppliers at Sysco and local growers like Sage Mountain Farms. From San Diego free-range chicken to tomatoes delivered within four hours of harvesting, the ingredients in our school lunch are far from the frozen mysteries we used to serve.

If San Diego isn’t local enough for you, Donald is also partnering with Brigida and Josh Rasmussen of Down the Road Farm, and Stacy Peyakov of Wynola Flats Produce. Down the Road Farm is a 22.5 acre farm and orchard that uses organic practices and, although it is still relatively small, provides salad greens and herbs for both Jeremy’s on the Hill restaurant and the school lunch program. The Hoopers supplement dishes with these local greens and create sauces from “ugly” produce donated by Wynola Flats to form the delicious and healthy meals served at school everyday.

The National School Lunch Program has strict standards dictating the amount of sodium, saturated fat, sugar, number of calories, and servings of fruit and vegetables contained in each student’s meal. These requirements mean that children who buy school lunch may be more likely to meet their daily nutrition requirements than those who bring lunch from home. It can be difficult to make sure kids are eating nutritious and balanced meals, so why not ditch the lunchable or leftover pizza for some affordable restaurant-quality lunch that you know is healthy?

National school lunch programs allow children whose families may not have access to healthy food to receive the majority of their daily nutrition needs at a reduced price or even for free. In rural Julian, the need for affordable fresh food is especially high. Our school lunch program, Jeremy’s on the Campus, is famous throughout San Diego county as one of the most unique and progressive systems of its kind. The Farm to School movement, which strives to connect kids to healthy food in schools, is transforming lunch programs all over the nation, and we are proud to be a part of it. So next time you stress about what to pack in your child’s lunchbox, put down the hot cheetos, and let your child enjoy a beautiful salad bar and freshly cooked meal!

A first grade student enjoys a chicken sandwich made with meat from Mary’s Chicken in San Diego.

 Donald and Shirley Hooper receive the Julian Backcountry Collaborative April Partner of the Month Award.

“No thank you” bite

One of my favorite nutrition education tools is the “no thank you” bite.*

The idea is this:  you have to take one bite in order to earn your “no thank you.”  After one little nibble, you may politely raise your hand and ask for permission to throw away your sample.  Emphasis on politely–no “yuks” or “gross!”

It totally works.

I can’t tell you how many times a student has confidently told me that he or she does NOT like what I’m about to serve.  I remind them of the “no thank you bite” rule, they try it, and then they ask for seconds.

In my classes with K-2 students, we are focusing on the six edible parts of the plant.  Last week we were on “flowers” so we sang the Banana Slug String Band song, did stretching exercises to review the six parts, talked about cauliflower farming and roasted cauliflower with olive oil and salt in the portable oven.  Again, I made converts with this simple technique.  Even better, I’ve had many parents tell me that their students have brought this idea home, insisting that siblings take their “no thank you bite” at the dinner table!

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*Thank you to Olivewood Gardens for this great tip!

 

 

It works, it works, it works!

Nutrition/cooking education.  Make no mistake: it works.

It’s said all the time but I’m here with hard evidence to prove it: When you grow and cook food with kids at school, in a fun, interactive way, they are more likely to try new foods and want to cook at home.

As mentioned in the last post, we made ratatouille in our garden/kitchen class.  I also sent home a letter with the recipe to each family and encouraged the kids to teach their parents the recipe.  I said, “If you do make ratatouille at home, please send me a picture.” The very next day I started receiving these:

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Once I received the picture, I visited the student’s class with congratulations,  a few questions about his/her cooking experience at home, and an invitation  to have lunch in the garden that day with a friend.  I’m thrilled that at our school “lunch in the garden” is a motivating reward, as it is sometimes hard to think of incentives that aren’t sweets/snacks or little throwaway objects.

None of this is lost on you, dear readers, but allow me to list the levels of goodness here:

-Students have a positive experience with a certain food at school and bring that excitement home.

-Students show off newly acquired skills to parents, and we all know that re-teaching is good learning.

-Families learn new recipes—in this case, one that is vegetarian, seasonal, adaptable and affordable.

-Students are congratulated and rewarded in front of their peers for extending their learning after school.

Many thanks to Wynola Flats for sourcing these delicious vegetables and ordering what I needed.  I can’t tell you how exciting it was to stop in yesterday for more ingredients and have Stacy say, “People have been coming in, buying ingredients for ratatouille….”

 

Another Big (and Yummy) Idea

Although we have used our Whole Foods-funded cooking station for simple food prep, we recently used it for one of our Big Ideas—full-fledged cooking classes in the garden.  Chef Greg from Healthy Adventures, through California School’s VEBA program, provided an afternoon of cooking instruction as part of our staff wellness program.  He made white bean hummus, Greek salad with swiss chard and kale, and spring peas with dates and walnuts.

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Best part?  We harvested many of the ingredients on the spot!

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And look!  Harvest of the Month!  Thanks Chef Greg for an awesome afternoon.

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Something’s fishy with the strawberries

On Science Day, the upper grade students did a scavenger hunt.  (The questions are copied below for those garden coordinators among you.) The prize?  Lunch in the garden, with treats.

A week later, the dozen students with the most correct answers joined me for lunch at the garden table, and I laid out organic strawberries and oranges from our Be Wise Box.

Interestingly enough, one of the students had a box of store-bought, non-local strawberries with her, and as she shared them, the kids started an impromptu comparison taste test.  And as you can guess—it was no contest. The kids said the local, organic strawberry on the left was intensely flavorful and juicy–the one on the right had virtually no taste at all.

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Photo courtesy of Marisa McFedries

So wonderful to see kids connecting the dots themselves….It’s like the girl on the right is saying “Hmmmm, something ain’t right here!”  (You never know what teachable moments will present themselves in the garden.)

Science has a lot to do with….

asking good questions

and being observant

 Read the questions below.  The answers are somewhere in the garden.  If you are observant, you will find the answers!  The kids with the most correct answers found will be have lunch in the garden after Spring Break, with garden treats!

We can measure the temperature of the air, of water and of soil.  Soil usually has to be a certain temperature in the spring before it’s wise to put plants in the ground.  Find a soil thermometer in the garden and report the current soil temperature:

There is more variety in vegetables, flowers, herbs and fruit that you’d expect.  Find the seed catalogue and write down the number of different kinds of peas you can order (add the snow peas, snap peas and shelling peas together.)

How much rainwater is currently in the tanks?  (The gauge is at the top)

Seeds usually look and feel smooth.  What are their surfaces generally like when viewed under a microscope? Why do you think this is so?

Name one poisnous plant.

Notice how some of the fruit trees are flowering.  Why is this not necessarily a good sign in Julian in late March?  What could happen to these flowers?  What would happen to the fruit?

Beds #2, #3, #4 and #6 are planted out with peas.  Which bed was probably planted first?  Which was planted last?

How much rain did we get during our last storm?

Look at bed #1.  How many DIFFERENT varieities of daffodils are in this bed? (There are 2600 different named hybrids of daffodils in the world.)

Take a look at the bucket of finished compost in the wheelbarrow.  What did this soil used to be?

Name three herbs we are growing in the garden.

What are the four things that are necessary for habitat?

Find the seed packets.  Which plant will be the last to harvest?

A trellis is a fence-like structure planted in a garden bed for plants to grow up.  How many of our garden beds have some type of trellis?

There is one small tree in the only round garden bed in the garden.  What is it called?  Is it dead?

The most beautiful broccoli…

….is (of course) the broccoli you grow yourself!

One of my Garden Ambassadors harvested the broccoli yesterday.

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And after thorough washing, it went back to the classroom.  From stem to mouth in the same afternoon!

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P.S.  Today I saw some of the fifth graders, and I asked them how they liked the broccoli, compared to other broccoli they had eaten.  One said, “More moist.”  Another said, “Fresher, sweeter.” A third summed it up: “It tasted more green.”

They also said the teacher offered seconds, and the kids rushed the bowl.  (Who says kids won’t eat vegetables?)

Outdoor food prep station? Check!

I mentioned that Whole Foods Foundation and Food Corps funded an outdoor food prep station in the garden.  To review, this is what the area looked like before:

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A deck was built to fit the space…

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…and a split-level “food prep station” added!  (The two levels are for lower and upper grade-sized kids.)

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Stainless steel sinks can be used to wash produce with fresh water from dispensers.

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Buckets in cabinets below catch the water to reuse on plants.

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Sinks can be covered with cutting boards to increase work space.

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Both sides have electrical outlets for simple appliances, such as our pizza oven and wok.  We also purchased a solar over.  I’ve been keeping my eyes open at garage sales for other tools such as a salad spinner and a flat grill/panini press.

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The stage is set for great culinary and educational outcomes!