Friday, May 28, 2010

Small Schools Offer Great Meal Deals

As a very proud Montanan, I am thrilled to share a very tasty example of what the Treasure State offers students in one of our smaller districts.

In a small town near the Montana/Idaho border, Lolo School District Foodservice Director Linda Free has been making whole grains the norm for many years. As a proud winner of a HealthierUS School Challenge Gold Award in 2007, Linda and her team serve meals that meet highest nutrition standards, while also meeting their customers' desire for great taste. This lunch rocks with a Confetti Quesadilla, Fresh Baked Potato Wedges, Romaine Salad/Dressing, Fresh Watermelon Wedge, Whole Wheat Sugar Cookie, and Choice of Skim or 1% Milk. The quesadilla includes low-fat mozzarella and cheddar cheese, black beans, and red pepper pieces on a whole wheat tortilla -- just one of many whole grains on the Lolo menu.
According to Linda, "I can always expect a large count on the day we serve these."

And, what's for lunch at Deer Trail School 26J, a very small district on the eastern plains of Colorado? Try homemade Shepard's Pie, Cheesy Biscuits, and a salad bar filled full of fresh veggies and fruit - a delicious, nutritious lunch enjoyed by everyone from the kindergartens to Seniors Citizens.

Don't tell Brenda Geesen, the cook at Deer Train for 14 years, that school lunches can't taste like home and be served with love! She serves between 150 to 165 everyday for lunch, and around 40 for breakfast, including the Senior Citizens who receive three free meals a week.
Her proudest moment was "when a third grade class was going on a field trip the same day as I was serving spaghetti. The students didn't want to go because they wanted to eat spaghetti for lunch."

Monday, May 24, 2010

Going VERY Local in Rhode Island

The best thing about going to a national conference is the opportunity to be inspired by folks from across the country. Then, you can take their ideas and experiences home as precious seeds to plant and nurture in your own community. Solange Morrissette, General Manager, Sodexo School Services, for Pawtucket, Newport, and Jamestown, Rhode Island, is one of those awe-inspiring people. When you hear what Solange has done in her schools, it is easy to see why Kids First Rhode Island gave her a Locavore Leader award. Her impressive achievements showcase the fact that management companies are helping students eat local and eat well!

Our first ever All Local Lunch Day was actually the brainchild of a Local Farmer who thought it would be great to serve a meal that was made up entirely of foods grown near the school. From that suggestion came The 15 Mile Meal, everything served was sourced with 15 miles of the School District. Since we do not have many protein choices grown in RI, we opted for a menu that was mostly vegetarian; students had four menu choices, Eggplant Parmesan, Veggie Pizza, a Bok Choy Stir Fry, or Spinach Salad. We have local eggs so the protein on the Spinach Salad was a hard boiled egg. The students also enjoyed roasted vegetables, rolls from a bakery in town, apple tarts, and Rhody Fresh Milk. Engaging farmers, families, and the community was key to the success of this event so we invited families to join their children for lunch.

To understand how to build the menu, we toured local farms for a flavor for what was available and to build a relationship with the farmers. The hit of the day was Dirt Devil, a local cow who stopped by to visit with the students and teach them about dairy farming!

The event was such a success that Sodexo will take it state wide in September; we will serve over 42,000 Rhode Island children a lunch featuring local foods, including local pasta and sauce, vegetarian chili made from RI grown veggies, and vegetable pizza as well as a RI specialty known as a Saugy, some call it a hot dog but it is Rhode Island through and through.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Laquanda ROCKED the room

Today I was lucky enough to be inspired - by an amazing 17 year old senior from Philadelphia's University City High School.

At a presentation about farm to school programs in the Philadelphia Public Schools, Laquanda Dobson rocked the room with her passion for eating well, growing fresh food, and teaching younger children how to eat smarter.

Laquanda's excitement renewed my commitment for getting kids involved in growing, preparing, and eating healthful food that tastes great. With all our work to legislate, mandate, and regulate better food for kids, we need to remember the importance of inspiration. Laquanda inspired me - as I am certain she inspires her peers, the children she teaches, and adults working with her in Philadelphia.

How can you inspire a young person to experience the joy of eating well today?

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Farm-to-Cafeteria ... Engaging Kids from the Ground Up

From Detroit ...

... listening and learning about innovative strategies that connect children to the food they eat and the people - including themselves - who grow it.

As always, I am impressed by how excited young (and old) people get about touching the food they eat ... in the garden and in the kitchen.

I am more and more convinced that growing and cooking food is an essential piece of creating nutrition solutions for children ... from Michigan to Montana. We so often to hear that kids "won't eat healthy foods" ... and yet when they grow it or cook it, they certainly eat it.

Yesterday, we ate it too! The lunch at the conference featured dishes from winning entries in the Cooking Up Change 2010 National Healthy Cooking Contest. My favorite ... a Baby Spinach and Pear Salad with Carrot Vinaigrette from the Tohono O'odham Community Action Cooking Club.

They planned it, the hotel staff cooked it, and we loved it!

Monday, May 17, 2010

Rockin' Salad Bars in Yarmouth, MAINE

Headed to the Farm-to-Cafeteria conference in Detroit this week ... looking forward to hearing (and sharing here) the latest on healthful school nutrition options.

The latest entry on School Meals That Rock is from Yarmouth, Maine, schools, showcasing how a New England district puts good health and great taste on the menu for kids every day:
Using fresh vegetables and fruit on all the salad bars in Yarmouth, Maine, is the name of the game. We enjoy creating healthy meals and our salad bar is one of the places our students can get all the fruit and vegetables they want. We also make special salads like sweet potato, carrot raisin, pasta and many more. We add protein by using cottage cheese, yogurt, ham, turkey, and beans. The kids enjoy the salad bar and are able to access it throughout their entire lunch break.

We have also started a school garden in which the students also take part in and the produce is used on the salad bars when in season.

Rock on Yarmouth!

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Conversations about School Meals: From cafeterias to Congress

About a month ago, I was interviewed by a student reporter from an interesting Western Kentucky University project with a Farm to Fork blog.

The resulting story (third in a series about school meals) is now online at Lunch Debate Moves from Cafeteria to Congress. As Congress continues to consider Child Nutrition Reauthorization, the ongoing debate will continue to a be a lively one! I promise to continue weighing in on the issues - and actively promoting School Meals That Rock.

For the intial two parts of the WKU series, check out a"day in the life" of an elementary school cafeteria and a look at the USDA's school lunch commodity program.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Gardening and pizza make a perfect combo

Two of my recent articles are published online today in the current issue of Magic City magazine out of Billings, Montana.

Together they combine my love of fresh garden vegetables and pizza cooked on the grill at our mountain cabin in the Beartooth Mountains.

The ABC's of GYO (Growing Your Own) is a late spring look at how easy to it to get really local vegetables from your own backyard. Fire Up the Dough outlines a very simple way to grill your own pizza to perfection. They both combine health and pleasure, nutrition and taste - for the essential joy of eating well.

For a more detailed description of planting a pizza garden with kids, visit the Nebraska Extension's Garden Activities for Youth.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

A Simple School Breakfast ROCKS When You Need One

Many factors affect academic performance. However, when it comes to school nutrition, there is one obvious way to put “first things first:” BREAKFAST. Hungry students cannot be attentive, stay focused, or learn new material. Children must be well nourished and regularly fed in order to be ready to succeed.

The Mississippi Office of Healthy Schools, with generous support of The Bower Foundation, has made an outstanding commitment to the important connection between nutrition and school success. All of their work is based on the fundamental principle that Health is Academic. It has been a real honor to work with them over the past five years on a variety of projects, including many to help increase the number of Mississippi School Meals That Rock.

Here is a wonderful Mississippi example of putting first things first and making sure that students start the day right with a school breakfast in a Pascagoula elementary school. As we continue our conversation about what makes the optimal school nutrition environment for children, we must remember that a simple school breakfast can make all the difference in the world to a hungry child.

Jackson Elementary recognizes that breakfast helps children excel academically. They made breakfast a part of their school day by starting Breakfast-in-the-Classroom. The menu offers healthy, kid-friendly foods like low-fat string cheese, whole-wheat muffins, whole grain cereal-on-the-go, and fresh fruit. Breakfast participation increased by 14% within the first month! A special thanks to Ashley Harris and Dianna Krebs of Pascagoula School District for their leadership and commitment to healthy school meals.

Pascagoula School District

Pascagoula, MS

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Freeda the Fabulous Food Detective ROCKS in Bozeman, Montana

Supported by kidsLINK, a program of the Greater Gallatin United Way, Freeda the Fabulous Food Detective and her helpers visited seven Bozeman afterschool programs serving over 250 children during the month of April. At each school, kids participated in four stations, including a MyPyramid food relay race, a mystery fruit bag, a read-aloud story, and a delicious tasting station. Each child received a passbook to collect stamps and information on their way to help Freeda discover the fun in fruit.

According to Freeda, fun is the key ingredient in helping kids to try new foods. “We skip nutrition lectures and get kids talking about how different colored fruits keep their bodies strong and healthy. We ask them to be junior detectives to help us figure out what fruits might grow in Montana. They have lots of ideas and questions about what grows in their backyard or on their grandparents’ ranch.”

The lessons were designed to reinforce Bozeman school district’s Eat Local effort and to support the Healthy Kids backpacks provided by the Gallatin Valley Food Bank. All recipes featured inexpensive items that kids can make themselves.

Read more about Freeda (AKA Cory Talbott) in the May issue of the FREE Healthy Families newsletter from EAT RIGHT MONTANA. If you'd like a FREE E-subscription to this monthly newsletter, send your name and Email to

And, congrats to Cory from all her Montana fans. Cory has been accepted into the Dietetic Internship Program at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University. Who knows what delicious foods Freeda will discover there!

Monday, May 3, 2010

Rocking CREATIVE COOKIES and MUCH MORE in Grants Pass, Oregon

The Food and Nutrition Services of Grants Pass (Oregon) Schools have an impressive mission statement:

We believe as a department

Every child should have

Access to healthy fresh foods

Required for optimal growth

Ensuring academic success

Growth and development

Promoting healthy eating habits

Even more impressively, this school nutrition program lives their mission in multiple ways every day. Here are just a few examples of ways that Grants Pass is rocking school meals and nutrition education:
  • Won the "Healthy Breakfast Cookie Contest" at the Oregon School Nutrition Conference in March2010.
  • Purchase food, including fresh, organic fruits and vegetables, from local farmers and coordinate nutrition lessons with the fresh produce being served for lunch.
  • Promote programs including Ag-in-the-Classroom curriculum, school gardens, food tastings and cooking classes, indoor learning labs, and farm/farmers market visits, all of which get students excited about healthy foods.
  • Serve tasty, yet healthful, items such as chocolate zucchini muffins and slip spinach into salads covered with palate-pleasing strawberry vinaigrette dressing.