Posted on our refrigerator at home are all the usual things that for some reason just have to be displayed- photo of the dog (as if he is never around to see), a kids birthday invitation, some magnet that I still don't know why we bought, and other items that seem to have no other home. But centered for all to see is the school lunch menu from my kids schools. Consulted every day, the menu determines whether 3 lunches will be packed, or if trip through the cafeteria line is in order. Nine out of ten days, the kids ask for a packed lunch...thankfully.
I say thankfully because though our schools have made progress, we still have a long way to go to find great tasting healthy menus in the modern school cafeteria. Many of the vending machines are being removed, but we can surely do more. Chefs can be the link, and a new program called "Chefs Move To Schools" is a timely and innovative vehicle for us to get involved and bring a focus of help to the hard working school cafeteria and culinary workers. I call this "Operation Lunch Lady" in my house, though I don't think Jamie Oliver or Michelle Obama would prefer that moniker to the groundbreaking work they are doing.
Las month, I had the opportunity, no, make that "duty," to be a part of the White House launch of "Chefs Move To Schools". Michael Poompan of the Long Beach Renaissance was there as well, joining the nearly 1,000 chefs and culinary educators being hosted on the South Lawn by Michelle Obama and White House Assistant Chef Sam Kass. That's alot of white jackets touring the garden and collaborating on a national movement to provide culinary expertise to schools. This is really a local movement with global backing, the idea of pairing local chefs with schools in their communities. Simple really, chefs in the US have a website they can link to sign up and adopt a school. Likewise, chefs can sign up and be adopted by school that may want our help but have not been chosen. Really brilliant when you think about it.
I am encouraging all of our chefs to adopt a school and be a part of this on a national level. Globally, we have the ability as well in each of our 66 countries to be involved on a local level, as the subject of child nutrition is not a single country discussion, it is a global need. I mentioned Jamie Oliver and the efforts he began in the UK. This is not just a US goal, this is a global perspective.
Ok, so we adopt, then what? Simple really, the chef and school administrator get together and collaborate on what each can do. It may be an agreement to do a series of cooking demos, speak to a class, help plant a garden and then cook meals with the students using what they have grown, or even make a special of the day with the school culinary staff, then help serve it to the kids. Imagine the response of the kids when they see a chef in uniform serving up a healthy stir fry instead of macaroni and cheese! Besides, what kid doesn't like talking to the chef? There is not a lot of investment or cost, just an investment of time and knowledge.
Words of advice, caution the creators of this program, "Remember, the school culinary professionals do this every day and have strict guidelines by which they must follow. Purchasing, food safety, approved nutritional balance, etc, are all very, very tightly controlled. You, the chefs, should approach the task of assisting with the understanding that you are going into someone else's kitchen. Learn what they do, what the challenges are, what they would like to do before rolling in to 'change' ". Well said. Oftentimes it is just a procedural idea- cook in smaller batches, keep the vegetables fresher, add a salad bar, make a scratch low fat dressing, etc - that can make all the difference. Each school is unique, each need is local. Marriott's Spirit to Serve is a global thought with local action, and the idea of our chefs helping schools is perfectly aligned.
Want to sign up? Click on the link Chefs Move To Schools . I am adopting two schools in the Fairfax County Virginia Public School system, and I hope to see many of our chefs do the same in their communities. Together, we can make enormous impact.
What's on YOUR plate today? Healthy school lunches I hope!