Soda, cookies, fries, and hot dogs. Sadly this is a fairly standard diet for an American child.
To help improve this, the American Culinary Federation (ACF) is teaming up with the makers of Hidden Valley Original Ranch Dressing to raise funds to support First Lady Michelle Obama’s “Chefs Move to Schools” program.
Later this month the partnership will host Lunch Break for Schools, a national fundraising event. Between February 27 and March 2, chefs will go into our nation’s schools—more than 50 chefs are confirmed at presstime—and create and serve delicious, healthy lunches, with all proceeds going to the ACF’s involvement with the Chefs Move to Schools program.
Chefs participating in Lunch Break for Schools will create and serve a lunch menu item inspired by the White House school lunch guidelines. That dish will include whole grains, fresh produce, and lowfat dairy products, and be low in salt and sugar.
Restaurant Management speaks with Paul O’Toole, CEC, AAC, executive chef at Deerfield Golf and Tennis Club in Newark, Delaware, who is one of the chefs devoting time and resources to this cause.
How have you been involved with Chefs Move to Schools?
In June 2010 I visited the White house with the American Culinary Federation and since then I have hosted monthly Chefs Move to Schools demonstrations at UrbanPromise, a school in Wilmington, Delaware.
During my visits, I talk about the origins of fruits, vegetables, meats and fish, the effects of food on the body’s performance, and host hands-on demonstration with students ages seven to 14.
Why these schools?
They are pre-K through eighth grade. The schools either don’t have enough food or the kids and their families eat poorly. Poverty or lack of funds plays a part in poor nutrition but it’s not the only reason. This issue of childhood obesity doesn’t have an economic line to it. Education is a big thing—what could I eat instead of this that would be better for me?
It’s really teaching the kids. Some of them don’t see the fruits and vegetables we see every day. So a lot is about exposure. I ask them which fruits and vegetables they’d like me to bring in. Then I bring them and cook them.
What do you cook for the kids?
I made sugarless apple and cinnamon crepes. I brought seven different types of apples with me and cooked them. The kids even got to roll sushi one day.
I always try to bring something with me—apple slices, baby carrots, string cheese—because I don’t know the last time they ate, and they can also take that food home with them.
We have made fresh fruit smoothies. I always make two or three things per class. I bring in some cans of pop and we read the sugar content and I have them measure it out with teaspoons of sugar, then I talk to them about diabetes and heart disease, etc.
Are you able to capture their interest?
Yes, that’s what keeps me going. They send me cards and letters all the time. They write me little notes saying “Thank you so much; I’d never had sushi before,” or “Thank you for the smoothies.”
Why is this program important?
Our program is about changing the eating habits of a child while they’re still in school. It’s such a worthwhile project and so, so needed. But we also need to think about the kids when they leave school. Kids will be the next set of parents and the values that are instilled in them at this age will carry through to their children. They need to learn that everything is OK in moderation. The older they are the more we delve into nutrition.
How do you involve people beyond the children?
I also talk to the cafeteria workers about different options they can serve.
The kids go home and educate their parents. Catherine Dolan, head of the school, also says children are beginning to suggest healthier selections at the grocery store.
The long-term goal is to change eating habits and make our kids healthier and less prone to disease.
What kind of feedback have you received from the school?
At the end of the school year last year we made a big salad bar and the kids were so proud of it. The headmaster came up to me and said, “You probably don’t know this but you will be a positive influence to these kids for their whole life.”
You think ‘How could this be?’ but as you see these kids, this is the second year now; we see we are something really positive for them and they don’t have many positives.
How do you see your involvement with this program going forward?
We’re really in the infancy stages with this program with the White House. I just see this as continuing. It’s hard to say where it’s going to go for me personally except to keep educating and keep moving forward. I will continue to go into the schools and I enjoy it, I really do.
What dish have you created for Lunch Break for Schools?
I picked a sandwich—multi grain bread with a carrot and cranberry spread with Hidden Valley Ranch lowfat dressing with fresh roast turkey.