If you’ve watched “Super Size Me” or Jamie Oliver’s “Food Revolution” or if you’ve walked into the lunchroom of any public school, you’ve probably seen what we’re feeding kids in this country every day. It’s just plain garbage: pink Slime, pink milk (strawberry-flavored milk), mostly heavily processed food, where french fries or ketchup count as vegetables. Seriously? We have to do something about this!

The good news is, there is hope. I think we can all tell that there is a growing interest in healthier lifestyles. Our First Lady, Michelle Obama, started the Let’s Move initiative “to raise a healthier generation of kids.” We see the growing popularity of CSAs and the information is getting out there. Nutrition education is spreading. Yet, it’s too slow and not sinking in for enough people to make greater change. I still see kids in wealthy and highly educated places in NYC feasting on Goldfish crackers and Froot Loops, so the issue is widespread and not limited to uneducated people. Our children are still eating that school “food” five days a week.

As I was ranting about this one day, my friend Bill told me about Chef Bobo (Chef Robert Suries), a former instructor at The International Culinary Center (formerly The French Culinary Institute) turned head chef (with a staff of five) at The Calhoun School. Everything they serve is made from scratch. Breakfast, lunch, and a snack costs $3.25 per child per day, comparable to what other NYC schools are paying for meals.
Chef Bo Bo in the roof garden 2

As I toured their small but smoothly operating kitchen, I saw lovely breaded basa ready to be baked, chicken carcasses saved for stock, and roasted cauliflower, which I heard was a student favorite. Every lunch includes a vegetarian soup, a sandwich, an entree, a vegetable (a real one), a starch, and dessert (usually fruit).  Vegetarians are always well covered and there are a wide variety of ethnic flavors.

breaded Basa

Near the seating area, a bright and colorful salad bar (actually two) is set up for children to take as much as they want of fresh veggies and fruits and encouraged to come back for seconds.

Salad Bar 2

The menu is ever-changing as every two weeks a different chef/cook decides the menu. Chef Bobo likes to have his staff rotate through all the roles and responsibilities so that they can all move on to run their own kitchens at other schools: six already have! He is slowly making it possible for more schools to have fresh food. The growth could be exponential if we can get passed all the legislation and bureaucracy. I’m not saying it’ll be easy, but isn’t it worth it?

Towards the end of my visit, I got to see their roof garden, where they pick herbs and educate the students. They don’t have enough to supply their own vegetables yet. Still, the kids get the connection. The school also offers cooking classes for the high school students, opportunities to volunteer, and a food politics class for seniors. The food culture is integrated into the culture as a whole and these kids are lucky enough to leave with such a good start.

pear tree strawberry patch

I was there during prep before lunch started so I didn’t get to chat with students.  A few teachers came by and every single one raved about the food, as did two registered dietitian students from Columbia University who were studying the program. Since you won’t be able to go and buy a meal there (that could be a cool fundraiser though), you can pick up Chef Bobo’s Cookbook and go talk to your local school (even if you don’t have kids) about being healthier.

posted by jessica at 03:39 PM Filed under Interviews, Miscellaneous. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.