7 school cafeteria upgrades across the country

Ketchup isn’t a vegetable. We all know that. But it’s taken years, an obesity epidemic and some really bad press, to get a tight-fisted education system to agree.

In 2003, French Culinary chef ‘Bobo’ revolutionized cafeteria food with a made-from-scratch-menu of healthy farm, fresh food at a private school in New York. Keeping within budget, and creating a culinary education student program, he proved it could be done. In private schools.

Now, 7 years later, public schools across the country are also employing culinary thinkers, farm-to-table solutions, and lower-fat options. Major campaigns by Michelle Obama, and Jaimie Oliver, whose Food Revolution series revealed the seemingly impossible obstacles of revamping cafeterias, put the healthy school lunch movement on the map. But now, local schools and organization have taken the revolution and run with it. As hallways and lunch lines fill up this month, some cafeterias are preparing for change.

Wheatland, California
: Wheatland High’s Kuulei Moreno has applied her professional experience at the Culinary Institute of America to create Chef House, a school cafeteria run like a restaurant. Making potatoes from scracth, char-broiling burgers, she’s fought for improved appliances and got creative with free provisions with US commodities. “And it’s got commodity carrots that we chop up, fresh garlic and some fresh basil that my student brings in. And we cook it down…for hours,” the chef tells Capital Public Radio. On any given day, the menu features home-made items like turkey tacos, cole slaw with Fuji apples, salad wraps.

Baltimore, Maryland: As food-service director of Charm City schools Tony Geraci, has a radical vision for healthier lunches. A garden every school, and meals dreamed up by the students themselves is on his agenda. Already, he’s established over 30 student-run gardens, and an organic farm in an unused lot in the city. He’s instituted a Meatless Mondays program and purchased millions of dollars worth of locally farmed produce. How he’s doing it all is the subject of an upcoming documentary, called Cafeteria Man.

Illinois: The state’s new The Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program, is providing free fruits and veggies to 188 schools this year. The idea behind it is to offer students healthier snack options between meals. If it’s free, they’re more likely to grab an apple instead of a bag of Cheetos.

Longview, Texas: The district has enforced a campus wide ban on peanut products in area schools, to protect severely allergic kids. With a significant rise of peanut allergies in kids, according to The Food Allergy Initiative, the changeover may eventually serve as a model for schools across the country.

Grand Rapids, Michigan: The Greenway Nutrition Committee has made changes in area cafeterias this year with low-sugar cereal options, Friday-only chocolate milk, lower fat meal options, increased fruits and veggies and incorporating harvesting and agricultural classes into curriculum.

Miami, Florida: Two of the city’s top chefs Michelle Bernstein and Kris Wessel are instructional seminars for local cafeteria managers. Their guidance extends to alternatives to chicken tenders like, grilled chicken wraps, instructions on mass-assembling menus with curry and vegetables and baked sweet potatoes on a budget, according to the Miami Herald. While the schools aren’t prepared to give up their mass-produced frozen options, the tutorials are aimed at expanding kids’ palates so they’ll pick a healthy curry dish over a plate of french fries.

Nationwide: Whole Foods has helped launch the Great American Salad Bar Project this semester, a program where schools across the country can apply for a free salad bar kit for their cafeteria. To apply, schools have to be within 50 miles of a Whole Foods, and a participant in the National School Lunch program. Their short-term goal is delivering salad bars and operational assistance to 300 schools.