Monday, November 15, 2010

Baked Potatoes

Baked potatoes are a wonderful, hearty school lunch food for the winter months.  Preschoolers and adults like them, and they can be dressed up in so many ways to make a fun meal.  Our salad bar morphs into a baked potato bar for the day, and I’ve found that it’s been very easy to upgrade the fixins: 

Last year, defrosted chopped broccoli
This year, fresh, chopped broccoli, blanched, and bright green

Last year, sour cream
This year, sour cream mixed with fat-free plain yogurt (and no one even knows!)

Last year, dried powder chives
This year, sliced fresh scallions

Last year, potatoes wrapped in foil
This year, no foil (500 fewer pieces of foil in a trash and less work for the kitchen.  The one negative about no foil is that the potatoes don’t stay as hot once out of the oven.)  

Here are some other things we continue to served on the bar (and possibilities for future upgrades): bacon bits (chopped bacon), shredded cheese, canned baked beans (lentil salad), chopped tomatoes, bottled salsa (house-made salsa). 

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Small changes

Improving the menu this year has been all about making small changes rather than drastic ones.  For example, we still serve hot dogs, but instead of the usual accompaniment of rice and beans from a boxed mix, we made a brown rice, carrot, and raisin salad.  The recipe we used is based off of one from the “Recipes for Schools” section of the Jamie Oliver Food Revolution website.   
We baked off a pan of brown rice and tossed it with shredded carrots, raisins, and sliced scallions for a bit of color.  Then we mixed the salad with a sweet and sour dressing of orange juice, honey, and mustard.  We served our salad hot.  Some of the older students were really skeptical about it but then admitted they liked it after they tried it.  To find the recipe on Jamie's website, click on the link above and click on the Recipes with Menu Planner pdf.      
On a side note: Many a thanks to our school nurse and nutrition director, Beth. She printed out copies of all the School Revolution recipes and brought them along to a meeting when we were writing the November menu.  The last two months have been really hectic in the kitchen, but when  there are others trying to help me improve school lunch, it makes it that much easier :) 

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

November Menu

Can't read the items? See below for a close-up version

My kitchen is finally fully staffed, and I’ve got a new cook on board.  It means that we can truly begin the process of eliminating as much pre-processed foods from our main menu as possible.  Here’s the tentative menu for November.  You will see that there’s still an assortment of items on the menu that I can’t wait to remove, but one item at a time J

I’ve circled all items that we’ve improved, changed, or upgraded in one form or another this year.  Some changes are small, like substituting fresh veggies over frozen ones whereas larger changes are…an adventure!  At my school, our main meals are essentially buffet-style - students and staff can come up for as many helping of it as they like.  Whenever we serve a brand new item, we have to get ready for people coming back for seconds, thirds, or if they’re 6’5” basketball players on the varsity team, fourths! 

I will be writing in more detail about certain menu items.  I’ve got quite a lot to say.  Please few free to post questions about items.  

Monday, September 27, 2010

Composting, Finally!

Last April, I blogged about how my kitchen is spearheading our school’s composting program using Save That Stuff, a Boston-based waste management company.  Middle and upper schoolers “practiced” composting by separating compostable from trash during lunch, but the program didn’t take off because there was no supervision to make sure waste was going in the appropriate bins. 

We’re at it again, and I’m happy to report that we’re getting ready to send our first food waste to the composting facility this upcoming week.  This new year I was prepared with all the necessary tools to make it a success:  I made announcements to students and staff, sent out an informational email about composting, and recruited teacher volunteers to watch the bins during lunch time. 

Our composting bins in our cafeteria are lined with compostable bags, a necessary requirement to compost with Save that Stuff.  Composting isn’t cheap:  each bag costs about sixty-five cents, and the minimum cost to come pick up our compostable waste is $20.  However, trash pick-up in general is pretty expensive.  If our school is paying good money for trash removal, I’m glad that the cost is going towards compost rather than a landfill. 
Our very first bag of compost! 

As of now, our composting program doesn’t affect the work in my kitchen whatsoever.  Teacher watch the bins, and our maintenance department cares for the contents of the compost bins.  However, very shortly, kitchen food scraps such as cucumber peels, tomato stems and freezer burned food, will go into the compost bin too. 

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Recruiting for the School Food Revolution: Hiring a Cook

I'm looking to hire for a new cook position in my school kitchen.  This might be the most important decision I make in terms of helping me improve the school menu, so I'm very excited.  Here's the ad I placed:

Part-time cook: Be Part of the School Food Revolution
Our private school is looking to improve school lunch and needs a part-time cook to help with that process.  If you watched Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution and/or are interested in being part of the new school food movement, this is your chance. We’re looking for a recent culinary school grad or someone with a couple of years of restaurant experience. So, some professional kitchen experience is necessary but we’re willing to train the right person. We’re looking for a cook that is professional, has good communication skills, and is flexible with duties. Day to day work will vary depending on the menu and our in-house catering needs. For example, one day might be spent slicing and prepping chicken sausages and peppers for a lunch of whole grain pasta with sausage and peppers sauce, working on a catering event, performing inventory duties, and helping out with our salad bar. Each day is different.

I’ve gotten quite a variety of resumes, including a school kitchen veteran, a home cook passionate about improving the state of school lunch, and someone with a Masters degree in Food and Agriculture wanting real-world experience.  I’ve already scheduled a few interviews for Monday.   

Monday, September 20, 2010


The City of Boston is holding a food truck contest for interesting, local, and sustainable food concepts.  The prize is a spot for a truck to sell on City Hall during lunchtime next spring.  I had to enter because I love food trucks and the scope of the contest is right up my alley.  I came up with BON ME, a truck serving the following: Vietnamese-inspired sandwiches, noodles, and rice bowls; Massachusetts-grown vegetable side dishes; homemade drinks, all served in bio-based containers.  Working in a school kitchen certainly helps me with this contest.  Everything I know about local produce and environmentally-friendly containers comes from working in my school kitchen. J

BON ME is currently a semi-finalist in this contest!  To determine the finalists, Boston is holding an online vote that is taking place right now thru Friday.  So, PLEASE, vote for my food truck, BON ME!  Thanks!!   

To vote, go to the following website, scroll to the bottom of the page, and click "Vote Now."

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Brave New Lunch is Back in Business

So many exciting things are happening in my school kitchen right now that I can’t wait to blog about!  I intended on starting up earlier but have been slammed at work.  The kitchen crew is down two members.  The five of us here are working extra hard, especially because we’re going full force into changing the menu with new and healthy offerings.

Here are some things we’ve done so far: 
-We served watermelon for dessert last Thursday for the first time at my school.  It was a hit!  
-We now use a delicious tomato sauce made with pronounceable ingredients, including carrot puree.   Really tasty AND healthy.  
-We replaced our white baguettes with cracked wheat baguettes for sandwiches.  There was one first grader who was quite upset because she "only likes white bread."  She will eventually get used to our brown bread.    

TOMORROW: I’m going to post about what I’ve been working on over the summer and ask for some help from you readers;) 

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Recipe: Smoothie

Wouldn't smoothies be a wonderful snack option at school, especially when the days are still warm?  Smoothies can be packed with ingredient rich in vitamins, minerals, fiber, and protein.  They're perfect for a quick break.  I made a smoothie 2 weeks ago to “test” it out, and I enjoyed it so much I’ve had one almost everyday since. 
I start with a base recipe of non-fat plain yogurt, orange juice, and frozen, ripe bananas, which I accumulate in my freezer since they’re nice to have around for banana bread, (or now, for smoothies).  Next, I add whatever fruit I have on hand.  Last week I used strawberries, today mango.  Everything goes into a large measuring cup, and I buzz it with my immersion stick blender until smooth.      
For two one-cup servings, use about ¾ cup of yogurt, half cup of orange juice, and one large banana.  For today’s mango smoothie, I scooped out the flesh of half a large mango.  The smoothie was so sweet, I threw in a dozen cranberries from my freezer.  As you can see, the recipe is extremely free-form and you can adjust ingredients and their quantities as you see fit. 

Local peaches are available from my local farm in September, so they will surely make it into my school smoothies then.  I bet they’ll sell out during snack time.  

Friday, June 25, 2010

Strawberry Season

The last time I went strawberry picking must have been over twenty years ago when I was no more than five years old.  It was a family trip, and my brothers and I had a blast running between rows of strawberries and, of course, sampling just plucked berries.  To celebrate the summer and the end of the school year, I decided to go strawberry picking with my fiance, just for fun.  And it was!   

Bring your family to one of the pick-your-own-farms in Massachusetts (or wherever you live) this summer– it’s a great way for kids to see where food comes from while supporting local agriculture.  Plus, many farms are family-friendly and have playgrounds, ride, and tours just for kids.  

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Brave New Lunch On

Jamie's Food Revolution has made my job of improving school lunch easier because people are finally talking about school lunch and treating it as an important issue.  I support Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution and have signed Jamie's petition.  ( You can too.)

Recently I was asked to write an article about Brave New Lunch for Jamie Oliver's website.  Click here to read it.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Allergies and Lunch, Part 2

Gluten-free and lactose-free products

Our lunch program
 All students participate in our lunch program with the exception of our youngest students with severe allergies.  Their parents may bring in food for their lunches, and the school nurse takes care of preparing this food - from assembling a gluten-free corn taco to baking a lactose-free pizza in the oven.  Playing short-order cook is a lot of work for the nurse, who also works the cafeteria making sure our young students are eating food on their plates.    

If students are old enough to take responsibility of their allergies – sometime in middle school - they resume participation in school lunch and simply avoid food items that cause reactions.  For example, we serve hummus on our salad bar and place bread with sesame seeds in our bread box, even though several students have sesame allergies. 

Working with allergies
Among parents, teachers, kitchen staff, and the nurse, my school will work together to make sure student allergies in the 2010-2011 year are properly and effectively addressed.  We already know of new students with some severe allergies, including tuna-fish and gluten allergies.  Although we aren’t planning to remove these items from our cafeteria (and in fact, it would be practically impossible in the case of gluten, found in wheat), we will work with these students to see how they may be as safe and as well fed as other students.  The kitchen may begin stocking a few gluten-free and lactose-free foods in our packed-to-the-brim freezer.  We might move tuna, a mainstay on our deli bar, to an isolated spot in the cafeteria to prevent cross-contamination with other foods.     

Keeping all parties informed is critical in handling the ever-increasing number and types of food allergies.  Our nurse assembles a master list of students with allergies each school year for school staff.  The kitchen staff refers to this list frequently.  Even though there is plenty of adult supervision in school, allergy attacks may occur despite precautions.  Parents need to teach their children with allergies to be discerning with what they put in their mouths, especially when they aren’t familiar with the food. 

As you can see, there is no simple way of handling allergies.  Each case requires a lot of time and individual attention of the school staff.  

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Allergies and Lunch

Banned from school

Today, many kids have allergies, and schools must deal with them.  A few years ago, a young student’s airway started closing up and the school nurse gave her an Epi-pen shot.  This student is extremely allergic to peanuts.  Althought she didn’t ingest any nuts, the nurse believes this student accidently exposed herself to it while in the cafeteria.  As a result of this severe anaphylaxis reaction, my school banned all nuts on campus.

Allergies are scary for students and schools.  Parents don’t want food in their school cafeterias that could impart harm, or even death, to their kids.  Schools don’t want this either.  When it’s just a few ingredients like nuts, schools can find substitutes.  The peanut butter and jelly sandwiches we make for lunch are actually sunflower seed butter and jelly sandwiches.  My kitchen carefully screens all new products and even foods we order for catered special events.  Too often we find nuts as garnishes or just hidden in the middle of a long ingredient list.

But what’s the right balance between accommodating one student at the expense of everyone else?  Nuts are a great source of protein and certain vitamins and nutrients, particularly for vegetarians.  It’s quite unfortunate for them. 

Next post: How my school is planning around allergies next year 

Thursday, June 3, 2010


School lunch desserts are a thorn in my side.  A parent requested 100% juice popsicles for lunch.  Unfortunately, the only ones we found were twice the size of our normal 1.6 oz bars and correspondingly twice the calories and sugar.  A vendor gave my cafeteria samples of new whole-wheat cookies made just for schools.  The cookies tasted awful and were loaded with more preservatives and sugar than comparable normal cookies.  The “better” dessert eludes me.            

Here’s what we serve for dessert: 

2 x a week:  Frozen treats – fudge bars, ice cream sandwiches, Italian ices, creamsicle etc.  

1 x a week: Canned peaches, pineapple or pears in juice or fresh fruit such as grapes and oranges 

1 x week: Baked goods such as cookies, cake or brownies

1 x week: miscellaneous desserts - jello, pudding or an extra baked good

Dessert in moderation is a perfectly nice way to end a meal.  Some schools have banned desserts from cafeterias all together.   My school hasn’t gone there yet though it might in the future.  Next year, I’d like to offer a wider variety of fresh fruit – and more often - especially when it’s in season.  I bet strawberries from our local farm make a great last-day-of-school dessert.      

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

Thursday, May 20, 2010

New Position

My school kitchen

My school finally offered me the position of food service director!  I bet most of you assumed I was the director already.  I’ve had some authority to make improvements over the last two years, but it’s been quite limited.  I am currently a co-director, and I share the responsibility of running the kitchen with the other co-director.  One month I run it, the other month she runs it.  Strange, isn’t it?  There’s a very long story behind it.  My co-director is retiring after forty years at my school, and I’ve been busily figuring out how to bring a better lunch to my school.  This is the first time I will really be able to make vast changes to our meals, so I’m trying to learn everything I can now to be ready when the next school year begins.   

As part of the learning process, I've contacted all of our vendors and told them we're trying to serve better food.  Do they have less processed items that might fit with our goal of serving healthier foods?  I'm still looking for a corn tortilla without all the strange additives.  I'm visiting several schools with good food programs to pick the brains of their directors and see other kitchens and cafeterias in action.  Several of them suggestion that getting students involved when introducing new foods to the menu is the best way to get students excited for healthy improvements.  I've also sadly realized how small my school kitchen is compared to other schools :( 

FYI: I'm sorry posting has been very infrequent lately.  I've been very busy at work and just started exercising in the evenings.  I will be posting a little more often now, as my 2nd job as a private chef has ended for the school year and won't resume until the fall.      

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

MA Farm to School Conference

I attended the Massachusetts Farm to School Project “Shoptalk” conference a couple weeks ago, which featured speakers that are successfully integrating local farm produce into schools. 

I’ve always wondered how large school districts start up their programs, and I got to hear from a few different schools, including Boston, the largest in MA.  Boston has 135 schools in its district, and getting local food is a lot more complicated than getting it, say, to my small independent school.  While Boston initially contacted a farm with an interest in purchasing, getting the produce to all of their schools would take too much time for one farm.  To work around the logistics, they found a produce delivery company that was already trucking produce into Boston.  However, Boston wanted to ensure that they were getting local produce from the farm they picked out and not items from far away.  This delivery company began labeling all boxes so that they could distinguish one farm from another.  What a great idea!

I also happily listened to Ken Watts of Johnson and Wales University, which runs a top culinary school in the country.   Johnson and Wales not only uses local produce in their school in Rhode Island, it is educating the next generation of chefs about it.  I graduated from the Culinary Institute of America, and when I attended, local produce wasn’t emphasized in classes despite its close proximity to farms.  A look on their website and I see that a lot has changed since I went to school!

I left the conference completely inspired and with a list of contacts (including contact for Four Star Farms , which grows and mills its own grains right here in MA) and a bag brimming with information (including a link to Somerville Public School’s guide to How To Hold Cafeteria Taste Tests when introducing new foods to students - scroll to the bottom of the page to download the pdf). 

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Behind The Kitchen Door Series: Snack Time

Bag of snacks destined for a lower school class

Mid morning snack time is all about prepackaged food at my school.  Younger students get snacks delivered to their classroom from the kitchen.  Due to food allergies and sensitivities, the list of acceptable snacks keeps getting smaller every year.  There’s a two-week rotation of food such as pretzels, graham crackers, string cheese, oyster crackers, and apple sauce.  Not very exciting but no more allergy issues. 

 Cart of snacks for middle & upper school 

Middle and upper students get a fifteen-minute break and may purchase items from the cafeteria.   An average day of snacks includes a baked good, 100% fruit juice boxes, and roughly ten kinds of prepackaged snacks.  Last year, we had a nutritionist come to our school, who recommended a few items to add to our list of snacks to make better options available to our students.  For example, our chocolate chip muffin (a student favorite) is sometimes sold along side a honey bun made with whole wheat.     

Apples, along with pear, bananas, and tangerines mixed in occasionally, are available free of charge all day long.      


Sunday, May 2, 2010

Operating Without Clean Water

Water water everywhere but not a drop to drink

Yesterday, a water main burst in Weston, Massachusetts leaving Boston and dozens of other communities without clean water for drinking or even hand washing.  Since my school is in the affected area, I anticipate many changes in school lunch tomorrow if this isn’t fixed by then.       

Drinks - We will serve no juice or water from our drink machines, which pull water from our pipes.  We will serve milk in cartons and juice in bottles.  We will probably boil and then chill water for drinking if this is to last more than a day.  We will use no ice. 

Dishes - Because it may not be safe to use our dishwasher, we will use paper plates and plastic utensils.  We keep disposables around in case of emergencies like this.           

Salad/Deli bar - Unless we boil water and chill it, we won’t have water to wash our vegetables or our equipment.  We may still serve salad, but it may be limited to items pre-made or pre-washed such as mesclun mix, hummus, and granola.  My main concern in running our salad and sandwich bars is how to wash all of our crocks and pans at the end of the day.       

Main meal - chicken patties sandwiches, pasta salad, and ice cream.  Luckily, the chicken patties are thaw-and-serve, so no washing required!  I think we’ll ditch the pasta salad.  The ice cream is a go.  

Hand sanitizer and gloves will be used abundantly.    

Thursday, April 29, 2010


I am noticing that a good number of school food service directors, especially the younger ones, are registered dietitians, licensed dieticians and nutritionist, or have a Masters degree or Ph.D in nutrition.  I’m not surprised.  If I were a parent with a child in a school, I’d want my food service director to have a degree in childhood nutrition.

Yet, it peeves me that we need someone with a special degree to tell us what we should and shouldn’t eat.  Up until recently, that person with all those degrees didn’t exist, and our mothers were the experts in the food department.  A lot has changed! 

I’m thinking of going back to school to get a Masters in Nutrition – I feel the pressure to know more about nutrition so that I can legitimately answer questions about the food served at my school.  I really wish I could just focus on serving good home cooked food.   

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Searching For Better Products

Last Friday, I invited a sales rep of a line of tomato products to do a tasting of his sauces in my school kitchen.  I met him at a food show while looking at the ingredients listed on a can of tomato puree at his booth.
I invited everyone in the kitchen to participate in the tasting and listen to the sales pitch.  A few people were skeptical.  Why change what we currently have?                     

Their pasta sauce tasted great straight from the can, slightly chunky, perfumed with onion and garlic, and made with carrot puree for a touch of natural sweetness.  One person who wanted to hold her nose while sampling the sauce (due to the mention of the carrot puree) said she liked it.

Not only am I happy with the quality, taste, and ingredients, this line is priced about the same as the current sauces we use made with corn syrup and a host of other undesirable ingredients!   

I have a long list of things I would like to replace in the school kitchen.  I know many of of these items won’t be as easy as substituting one canned good for another.  But there are surely some decent products out there (like this line of tomato sauces) in the giant warehouses of the national food supplier my school uses.  Finding those items is the challenge.  It occurs to me that maybe I should make the salesperson representing this supplier work a little harder for his commission.   

Sunday, April 25, 2010


I’ve slowed down on blogging over the last few weeks.  I was trying to put an entry in every weekday, but I’m afraid that was just a little too ambitious.  Brave New Lunch is just over a month old, but I’m starting to think I need to come up with a plan for content if I want this blog to be informative and interesting for readers and fun for me to write.  

I started this blog after reading Fed Up with Lunch: The School Lunch Project. I wanted to respond to Mrs. Q’s op-edit posts since I have an insider’s view of things.  I’ve written a couple of guest blogs for Mrs. Q (Pizza Perspectives, Ingredients, and Thaw-and-Serve) and will continue to write them every once in a while.     

My plan for my blog, at least for the next month, is to try to add new types posts to the blog – short interviews with people involved with school lunch and simple, wholesome recipes.    

This Tuesday I will attend a Massachusetts Farm to School “Shoptalk” conference, which will be my starting point for potential interviewees.  A few public school food service directors will give presentations about how they successfully implemented local farm produce programs in their school.   

I will still be continuing to work on the Behind The Kitchen Door Series, which are blog pieces about the different part of my school kitchen.  I plan on writing about our snack service this week. 

Please leave a comment if you have any ideas or suggestions for Brave New Lunch!  

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Happy Earth Day!

In time for Earth Day, my kitchen began rolling out the school's composting program.  While we don’t have a composting facility on school grounds, a local company, Save That Stuff, will take away our food waste (and paper products and biodegradable plastic cups) and compost it for us.       

We began the testing phase of the program last week.  Beginning with our middle school lunch, the kitchen asked students and staff to separate food waste from trash.  I stood in front of the bins to direct traffic for the first three days.  Everyone has caught on by now.  This week we introduced it to our upper school lunch.  Eventually, most of the school will participate, and we will have enough waste to make it worth it to Save That Stuff to come haul away the waste.  At that point our school will have to switch over to using biodegradable garbage bags instead of the regular black bags in the picture above.  I’m hoping that we will be saving at least 60% of cafeteria waste from going to a landfill.  

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Where Does One Begin?

A lot of people want to do something about their children's school lunch and have asked me, “where does one begin?”  

It’s a tough question.  Every school is different.  Every situation is different.  However, drawing on my limited experience, I have a few suggestions about the first steps you can take. 

Read the Rethinking School Lunch Guide.  I wrote a recent blog piece about last week.  Even if you don’t believe everything in it, it will give you a picture of school lunch and all the players involved in the making of it.  It gave me a surprisingly accurate description of the many oobstacles I’ve encountered as I’ve worked on changing my school lunch.     

Gather as much information as you can about your school lunch.  Is it thaw-and-serve or cooked on premises?  Who writes the menus and orders food?  Are ingredient and nutrition info available?  Befriending your school lunch ladies or managers would be helpful.  See if they have any information they might be able to offer you in your quest to improve school lunch.

Find other likeminded individuals.  If you are unhappy about school lunch, there are probably others around you that feel the same way.  With other parents, students, and staff, you may have a critical mass to set up a meeting with decision-makers at your school. 

Friday, April 16, 2010

Kids Like Asparagus!

Earlier this month, I reported that my school cafeteria is featuring asparagus as the item of this month.  Despite my concern that it wouldn’t go over well with kids, it worked out just fine.  Not every student took asparagus off of our main meal line, but some did and said they liked it!  We’ll be serving again soon.  

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Rethinking School Lunch

Let's get rid of this stuff!

If you have been inspired to do something about school lunch and want to learn more about the issues related to changing your school lunch program, start by reading the Rethinking School Lunch Guide.  Available for download online and completely free, I turned to it when I first started working in my school kitchen.  Trying to “rethink” my school lunch without much guidance, it became my go-to-source for advice.  The Rethinking School Lunch Guide comes from the Center for Ecoliteracy.  
The Guide has two basic premises:

1. Frozen, preprocessed, and canned foods in lunch are unacceptable.  We should adopt an alternative, a "farm-to-school model, which provides fresh food from local, sustainable family farms.  Meals are prepared using fresh, seasonal, sustainably grown produce and products from local and regional sources.” 

2. The idea that lunch is an isolated meal without relevance to the rest of the school day or the world is also unacceptable.  The guide emphasizes an "integrated curriculum approach. It connect students to their food source through meals and field trips, improve the nutritional content and quality of food in schools, and help local farmers remain economically viable."  

With these two ideas, it discusses change in the context of ten interrelated subjects: Food Policy; Curriculum Integration; Food and Health; Finances; Facilities Design; The Dining Experience; Professional Development; Procurement; Waste Management; Marketing and Communications

Full of advice from people affecting change and sources for more information, the guide covers all the possible topics I could think of that are needed for change.  When I presented my head-of-school with a proposal for changing lunch after I started working at my school, I summarized the guide in four pages and turned each topic into question-and-answer format specific to the issues of my school. 


Tuesday, April 13, 2010

The Naysayers

They are in too many school kitchens.  They want everything to stay exactly as it’s always been.  It doesn’t matter if it doesn’t make sense, or if there’s an easier way to do things, a more logical, cheaper, healthier way, the answer’s always no.

I’m so glad in the last episode of Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution, he was able to get rid of the naysayer in Rod the radio host.  I wonder if he does the same to Alice in the school kitchen.  I sure want to see how he manages that!    

Monday, April 12, 2010

Behind The Kitchen Door Series: Dishwashing and Reusable Glasses

When I first started working at my school kitchen, we were already using reusable plates, some utensils, and coffee cups.  I advocated for a few other items that were added this year - soupspoons, soup bowls, and glasses.  It makes financial sense – with 500 people going through the cafeteria each day, the amount we spend on paper cups easily justifies the cost of glasses and washing them.  The biggest problem to adding any more reusable items to our load is space and labor.  If one or two members of the kitchen crew are out sick one day, we have disposable items ready.    

Right now only the last of our five lunch periods uses glasses.  We have ten minutes in between each lunch period, and that’s simply not enough time to deal with glasses while setting up for the next meal.  During our last lunch, using glasses saves about 150 paper cups each day.  That’s 750 each week or 27,000 for the school year.

While I'm no expert on environmental science, the environmental cost of running our commercial dishwasher a few extra times each day to save 150 paper cups from a landfill makes sense to me.  We use a dishwashing system that "reduces environmental impact" according to the company's website.  Our dishwasher system technician happened to stop by today so I asked him for some details and learned quite a few things: the detergent we use is low in phosphates and BPA, and the system minimized water use.  (In fact, speaking to him I realized I should learn more about my kitchen's dishwashing system and its environmental impact.  I will put up a post about the details later.)   

Getting glasses into our cafeteria wasn’t as easy.  People objected to the extra labor it would involve.  To make this possible, I worked with five teachers on lunch duty, one for each day of the week, to set out the glasses and supervise the collection of them at the end of lunch.  With teacher help, our kitchen needed only to run the glasses through the dishwasher and cart them away.  That’s about ten minutes of extra work for one person. 

Our commercial dishwasher isn’t like a home dishwasher.  One load of dishes through our commercial dishwasher takes less than a minute to wash and sanitize.  Dishes come out of the machine hot but still damp, and they need to sit for about 5 minutes to air dry.  Space is limited when we run the dishwasher load after load.  Each day we go through dozens of loads.


Sunday, April 11, 2010

Behind The Kitchen Door Series: Dishwashing and Reusable Glasses

Though not a glamorous topic, dishwashing is a big piece of the puzzle to improving school lunch.  Cooking from scratch uses lots of pots and pans, and more of the kitchen's resources need to go towards washing those items.  For example, replacing a frozen pre-panned mac-and-cheese requires us to boil lots of pasta and make a cheese sauce using pots and pans that we need to wash at the end of the day. It’s a lot harder than dishing out the thaw-and-serve version in foil pans.

My school used a huge chunk of our equipment budget this year purchasing
 a new commercial dishwasher when our previous one broke down.

Time is a big issue. Someone’s time needs to go toward washing dishes instead of serving or preparing lunch. Another concern is space. With increased use of pots and pans, there needs to be enough space in the dish washing area to hold the pans before and after they go through the dishwasher.

In an effort to be more environmentally friendly, my school kitchen stopped using paper plates, foam bowls, and plastic utensils.  Now there's even more dishwashing and little space for it. We’re bulging at the seams.

A school nearby recently unveiled a new and spacious kitchen that costs hundreds of thousands of dollars. I hear that their salad prep room compares in size to that of my school’s entire kitchen. But that new kitchen lacks a commercial dishwasher. This suggests that they produce tons of trash with the daily use of disposable plates and utensils and that they aren’t aiming to produce their food in-house, which usually warrants the expense of a commercial dishwasher.

On Monday: some pictures of our dishwashing area in action and more about how my school switched from disposable dining-ware to reusable stuff.

The Behind the Kitchen Door Series is a collection of pieces about the different component that make up my school kitchen. The reason I’m writing these pieces is to shed some light on how my school is making improvements to our school lunch. I covered the salad bar last week in two posts, The Salad Bar and More About the Salad Bar.  Next week I'll write about the soup bar.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

About Brave New Lunch

Brave New Lunch is one month old today!  I’m very happy writing this blog, and I hope all you out there are enjoying it.

Close-up of bulgur salad with tomatoes and green beans on the salad bar.

I hadn’t revealed much information about myself on the blog, but now I’m going to relax my anonymity policy a bit.  I don’t identify with Ms. A, the name on this blog.  Also, I plan on writing more specifically about issues in my area instead of being completely vague.

My enthusiasm for making changes in my school cafeteria naturally waxes and wanes over the course of the school year.  Right now it is at an extreme high.  I’ve been encouraged by all the concern about school lunch.  Through this blog, I have also met a couple of people that have given me some great ideas about how I might lead my kitchen in a better direction next year.

Thanks for reading my blog!

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Weeks Worth of Private Chef Meals

 Baked chicken topped with tomato and cheddar,  zucchini, corn and black bean salad, Mexican rice

As some of you readers know, I moonlight as a private chef.  After a day of running my school kitchen, I spend about 2 and a half hours cooking for a group of twenty-five adults.  I hope one day my school kitchen can produce some of the items I make as a private chef.  Here are some pictures of what I made this week as a private chef.
Roasted chili spiced salmon, cauliflower spinach and tomatoes, Israeli couscous
 Sloppy Joes, whole wheat penne sald with zucchini red onion and cherry tomatoes, steamed green beans
Spaghetti with a portabello tomato sauce, broccoli tossed with olive oil, garlic and chili flakes, lentil salad

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Food show

Yesterday, I attended my first food show since I began working for my school.  Held by a major food supplier to showcase their food products, it had booth after booth of food for all walks of the food service industry from restaurants to schools.

I’m very grateful the show did not focus on items for schools.  One of the first booths I stopped by focused on just that.  The school “specialist” welcomed me to try a bag of corn chips and said that an easy way to serve them is to snip off the top of the bag and fill it with chili and shredded cheese.  I passed on a sample of that and the rest of the other deep fried snacks. 

Overwhelmed by all the booths and foods around me, I almost didn’t stop at one featuring canned tomatoes products.  I’m glad I did.  The booth had samples of tomato sauces made without corn syrup and free of artificial preservative - just what I’ve been looking for.  Not only does it taste good, it's within my school’s budget.  I plan to switch to this brand as soon as we run out of product in my school kitchen.   

The selection of items that suited my school’s needs impressed me - I walked away with about six items I will follow up on.  However, none of those items came from booths designed for schools.  Those school booths reminds me what’s wrong with school meals – all the prepackaged processed junk.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution

I was on vacation when Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution came on TV, and I just watched the first episode this week.  I bet most of you are watching it, but if not, I highly recommend it.  As someone who works in a school kitchen, I am blown away that the challenges of improving school lunch featured on Jamie’s show are very similar to that my school, even though I work for a small, independent private school.  I bet it’s similar to most schools across America. 

I recognize the school freezer packed to gills with boxes of precooked foods like chicken nuggets.  I also recognize the attitude from lunch ladies, the resistance to change, and the skepticism of bringing in fresh food to replace precooked, processed foods.

For those of you who haven't seen the inside of a school kitchen, here's your chance.