Posts Tagged ‘school food’

NGI President Jenny Matthau, Chef Rich LaMarita, and grad Colin Zhu

Our Chef’s Training grad Colin Zhu was kind enough to report to us on NGI’s recent collaboration to teach a nutrition class with NY Coalition for Health School Food at PS 184 in Chinatown . . . 

On Friday, May 25, the Natural Gourmet Institute had the good fortune to do cooking demonstrations at P.S. 184, Shuang Wen Elementary School in Chinatown. The NGI team consisted of Chef Instructor Rich LaMarita, Chef’s Training Graduate Colin Zhu, Chef’s Training student Steven Stewart and NGI President Jenny Matthau.

NGI collaborated with Healthy School Food in teaching nutrition to two 5th grade classes. As each nutrition class ended, Colin and Steven assisted Chef Rich in the set-up of the food demonstration. As enthusiastic as the students were with each nutritional class, they could not help being totally enticed by what the chefs were preparing.

The NGI team made three dishes for the students: sticky brown rice cooked with coconut milk and star anise; black beans with onions, tomatoes, toasted cumin and oregano; and a hearty guacamole made with red onions, chopped Beefsteak tomatoes, cumin and cilantro served with crisp sticks of jicama.

During the presentation, Chef Rich displayed all the ingredients, talked about the unique origins of each food item, showed how to sauté the toppings for the black beans and how to make guacamole.

The students were eager to try each dish. Having just learned about macronutrients the class before, they were excited to have their senses amused by an actual cooking demo right in their own classrooms. The combination of nutrition class and a fantastic cooking demonstration created the perfect recipe for each student’s culinary curiosity.

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On May 25, I again had the pleasure of joining Wellness in the Schools and New York School Food staff and interns to prepare food for Cafe Day. Both organizations work hard to bring healthier, balanced, and more whole foods to students throughout New York City.

Natural Gourmet partners with PS 89 in Cypress Hills, Brooklyn, and our Wellness in the Schools liaison there is one of our graduates, Chef Annie Morgan. Annie cooks 2 days a week at PS 89, and 3 days at another school nearby. I joined Annie in the morning on Cafe Day to help prepare the menu and was given free rein to make the day’s massaged kale salad.

Cafe Days are an opportunity for students to try newly developed menu items, attend “labs” about healthy eating, and to mingle with guest chefs as well as Wellness in the Schools and School Food interns. It’s also an opportunity for partners like Natural Gourmet to see the incredible work that goes on day-to-day.

PS 89, from everything I saw, is a happy, healthy place to be. The energy of the kitchen staff, the spotless kitchen, the students, the teachers, the cheery lunch room, the colorful salad bar are all  disarmingly infectious (in a good way). Most importantly, the food served is of a quality and freshness not seen in most American schools in years, if ever.

In addition to the daily selection of salads, marinated chicken,  roasted potatoes, herbed whole wheat flatbreads and fresh fruit, Cafe Day introduced 2 new items for tasting (as demo’d by Chef Annie) – pickled cucumbers and a salad of fresh corn and peppers in orange vinaigrette. The corn salad had the added benefit of using peppers grown in the school’s greenhouse. Yes, PS 89 has a beautiful state-of-the-art greenhouse growing herbs, vegetables, and tilapia. Thanks to a knowledgeable and proud student named Brittany,  I got the VIP tour.

Wellness in the Schools currently focuses on schools with a 70% or higher poverty rate and is already serving over 20,000 students in NYC. With continued support, hopefully their imperative mission can extend to every school and student in the city.

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Chef Celine extols the virtues of colorful whole foods

On Tuesday, March13, Natural Gourmet instructor Celine Beitchman took her message of “What’s Good to Eat” on the road again to PS 10 in Park Slope, Brooklyn. As part of the school’s annual Healthy Steps Fair, Celine spoke to students about how to identify and choose foods that are both to their liking and healthy.

Celine’s thoughtful, interactive presentation gets students thinking about why they need to eat well and intelligent choices they can make to achieve that goal.

“What’s Good to Eat” is part of Natural Gourmet’s ongoing community outreach to spark a conversation among children about the benefits and importance of whole, local, seasonal, and organic food. If you have an interest in bringing this presentation to your child’s school or your organization, contact Lisa Boymann (212-645-5170, extension 104).

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The Farm Bill. Urban agriculture. Local Food. Food politics. Food access. Food justice. School food. All this and more were the focus of Day 1 of the Just Food 2012 Conference held February 24 and 25 in Manhattan. Just Food – if you don’t know – is the non-profit that makes local, fresh food accessible to all New Yorkers through community gardens, CSAs, farmers markets, pantry programs, and forging relationships that foster its goals in the community.

I attended Day 1 and was happy not only to see so many Natural Gourmet students and graduates, but also to meet so many like-minded people from our local food community.

The day kicked off with remarks from Council Speaker Christine Quinn, who detailed the progress New York has made in the arena of healthy food access. But I knew things were going to get interesting when Tanya Fields, Executive Director of The BLK ProjeK, informed the crowd that under-served neighborhoods didn’t need well-meaning white liberals to teach them what to eat. Then Garret Oliver, the Brewmaster of Brooklyn Brewery followed up with an apt comparison of the processed and simulated foods we eat to life in The Matrix.  George Weld, founder of Egg Restaurant & Parish Hall Restaurant, spoke last but eloquently about the unacknowledged nobility of preparing food for a living.

Almost 50 break-out sessions and a job fair rounded out Day 1. I attended a memorable and riveting talk by Tracie McMillan, author of The American Way of EatingTracie wrote her book after going undercover to work as a migrant farm laborer, a waitress at Appleby’s, and an employee at Walmart. The challenge she set herself was to live and eat off her below-subsistence wages. The thrust of her presentation and argument was that we could pay living wages to food workers and still have affordable food.

I can’t attend tomorrow (drat!), but it looks like a day devoted to sessions about farming, CSAs, and cooking. I’m counting on NGI students and grads to keep us informed.

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Natural Gourmet Instructor Elliott Prag with some new friends

Today I had the privilege to attend Cafe Day for Wellness in the Schools (WITS) at PS 89, an elementary/middle school in Cypress Hills, Brooklyn. Natural Gourmet volunteered with WITS and was partnered with PS 89 this year. PS 89 is a school where almost all students avail themselves of the lunch program. This was the first opportunity I had to see firsthand what WITS was up to in its initiative to bring healthier food to the city’s lunch rooms.

I met our liaison and Natural Gourmet graduate, Stefanie Devic, at 8:30 am to finish preparing  new menu items she was introducing to the students at lunchtime. This cafe day included quesadillas with whole wheat tortillas, beans and brown rice, pico de gallo, and fresh greens (kale and collards) with Canadian bacon. I sampled all of these offerings, and had to honestly pronounced them delicious. The new dishes were presented alongside an impressive daily salad bar, fresh fruit, and the always-reliable stand-by: peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.

I thoroughly enjoyed dining with the students and getting their take on the food. Competition may have run neck-in-neck between the cafe day menu and peanut butter and jelly among the youngest, but i noticed it was particularly well received by the older students.

I’m glad I attended. Talking to the students, seeing the dedicated staff at PS 89, working alongside Stefanie and seeing her passion, reminded me how important this work is to our communities.

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On Wednesday, January 11, Natural Gourmet Instructor Celine Beitchman spoke to an assembly of 5-12 year-olds at Hazel Avenue Elementary School in West Orange, NJ. The topic was What’s Good to Eat, a provocative and interactive 30-minute presentation that encouraged kids to make healthier choices by choosing foods that were both to their liking and more healthy. The event was also covered by the West Orange Patch. We talked with Celine afterward about the event. Here is what Celine had to say about the experience . . .

NGI Instructor Celine Beitchman talks to Hazel Ave. students about healthy food choices

How did you get involved in this project?

My colleague Lisa Boymann, NGI’s Director of Faculty Administration and member of the Hazel Avenue School’s Parent-Teacher Association Executive Board, asked me to speak. She has a son in Hazel Avenue Elementary where they’re busy kicking off a health and wellness campaign. The programs range from healthy food choices to building better lifestyle habits. We devised a healthy eating assembly which mirrors our philosophy at The Natural Gourmet, but a little more fun and engaging for the under-12 year old audience!

How many children did you present to? 

I spoke to two groups, back-to-back, of 200+ kids each, starting with the younger set and then finishing up with the older kids.

What core messages did you want to deliver to the children? What do you think it’s important for them to know?

The biggest message I tried to get across to them is to eat from a rainbow of colorful foods. Naturally colorful, that is. I wanted to make the connection for them that what they like and what’s good for them can be one and the same. We talked a bit about taste buds and trying new things. I think at their age it’s really important to teach them to be open to new tastes as their tastes are evolving everyday.

How did the children receive the information you were sharing?

The room was buzzing! I think the kids had a great time and from the feedback seems like they’re still talking about it at school and at home.

What do you perceive are the major hurdles to children eating more healthfully?

When it comes to healthy eating I think parents bear the brunt of responsibility. We can blame the media and the school system, but I think the onus really rests at home. That said, not enough parents know how to eat healthfully or have the financial or physical resources to do so.

Our kids are going to learn by watching grown-ups especially at the elementary school age. We can’t just expect them to do as we say. More than a few parents and teachers approached me after the presentation saying they’d learned something that will really change their mind about healthy eating.  So for me it’s about changing the way the whole family relates to their diet to really get the message to stick.

What message(s) will students carry to their parents after this presentation?

We created a weekly food calendar to post at home so kids can keep track of their food choices and keep the conversation going at the dinner table. At the end of the assembly, each kids was given a punch card to use at the lunchtime salad bar. Every time they eat from the salad bar they get their card punched. When they accumulate enough punches by the end of the challenge, they’ll be awarded a certificate recognizing their participation. We’re hoping that by creating an ongoing challenge, it will keep the topic on their minds until they become habituated to eating healthfully.

Are you intending to make this presentation at other schools?

Yes!  It was an awesome experience. If you know of an elementary school you’d like us to visit with ourWhat’s Good To Eat? assembly please reach out to us! Contact Lisa Boymann at 212-645-5170, extension 104.

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