Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Model School Food Program in Marblehead

I know there are schools that cook meals from scratch in their own kitchens.  Last week, I finally saw such a school first-hand.  Laura De Santis, Nutrition Director at the Marblehead Community Charter Public School in Marblehead, MA let me spend a day with her and her staff.    

 The day’s lunch menu: chicken and veggie curry over rice and lentils.  Included in the price of lunch are the salad bar and dessert, today, a banana and blueberry cake.   Did I mention that the curry did not come out of a can, nor was it reconstituted from a flavor packet, but the kitchen staff made it using real, raw ingredients?  Same goes for the dessert made with whole grain oats and fresh blueberries.      

I asked Laura, “What’s the best way to get kids to buy into the lunch program?”   The students, 4th – 8th graders, would happily eat pepperoni pizza, chicken nuggets, and fries for every meal, so getting them excited about healthier foods is a challenge.  Although Laura often gives out samples of foods to students who are apprehensive about trying something new, the integration of the kitchen and food in the school community fosters trust in the food and open-mindedness not often seen in schools.

Nutrition Director, Laura DeSantis, and volunteer, David Stein

Out of a French cooking class Laura taught came a French school lunch complete with crepes, Nicoise salad, and ratatouille.  When students read the book “Three Cups of Tea,” teachers worked with Laura to make a Pakistani curry, similar to the one I enjoyed during my visit, and chai tea for lunch.  This interplay of food and curriculum gives students a context for appreciating food and culture. 

The cafeteria isn’t just a place where kids shovel food in their mouths, it’s a vibrant part of the school community.  Parents volunteer in the kitchen, and the business manager helps serve meals.  After lunch, students do the bulk of the cleaning: they wash the dishes, tables, salad bar, and main meal line! Need I say more?

A student clearing ice out of the salad bar


  1. Alison,
    thanks so much for the great compliments. We try really hard to expose the children to both healthy habits in and out of the kitchen. I hope you come visit us again soon!

  2. Since learning that Japanese schoolchildren clean their own schools, I've been wondering why we don't do that here. It fosters a sense of pride for the building in which they learn, and I'll bet there would be far less graffiti in the schools when the kids are having to wash it off or paint over it...

  3. That's awesome! I wonder about the logistics of having a similar program at a larger school. It would certainly take more leg work, but I still think it could be a success! This is nice to see in schools.

  4. Very cool. It would be great to have the meals be considered an important part of the day & tied into the student's class work.

    As far as student help with meals, a few years ago an attempt was made at the school I work at to have the students wash the tables after they ate. I think it lasted for about 3 months. There were enough parent objections that it was discontinued.

  5. Ali, Thank you for covering this outstanding effort in Marblehead. And Laura, hats off and congratulations to you for your work and the obvious success you are having. Curry from scratch and homemade dessert! I would like to see larger school systems take on such a challenge. Well done.!

  6. That sounds like a fantastic lunch program. I know I was a little warry of new foods until I set foot in one of my friend's houses and tasted my very first curry from sratch (she's pakistani). I've been wanting to try new things ever since.
    I remember in 5th grade we had school 'chores' in which we rotated every week. Why is middle and high school any different than this? In high school, on lunch mod. washed tables between every lunch and most of the time never got finished before the next. What's the harm with giving them a sponge and have them wipe the tables down?

  7. Marblehead Charter is a great school and Chef De Santis and her wonderful staff do an awesome job in the kitchen with all their meals.