Posts filed under ‘School Lunch’

Chatham County Chef Challenge

By Tami Schwerin

Chef Colin and Chef Jimmy with the Moncure School lunch team

What could be a better opportunity to promote local food, health and nutrition than the school lunch?  We are hearing more and more about the worldwide epidemic of childhood obesity and diabetes.  School lunches are the perfect place to make a big impact.

Welcome to The Chatham County Chef Challenge in which we introduce three celebrity chefs to the ingredients, facilities, and nutritional guidelines of the iconic school lunch. Their assignment is to develop healthier menus using the same ingredients and guidelines and staying within budget.

Three Chefs have volunteered their time and expertise:  Colin Bedford of the Fearrington House Restaurant (North Carolina’s only official Five Star), Jimmy Reale of the Crossroads Restaurant at Carolina Inn (four star and four diamond restaurant),  and Steve Caldwell of the Natural Chefs Culinary Program at Central Carolina Community College, (first community college in the nation that offers a wholistic, sustainable culinary arts program).  They all have quality and local food in common.  Two have children….it will be interesting to see what they come up with.

Chef Jimmy with the Northwood High School lunch team

The chefs must develop recipes and techniques to increase the amount of vegetables on the menu, and to raise awareness about the lunch program.  The menu needs to be quick and easy so that the lunch ladies can replicate the menu.

Debbie McKenzie, Child Nutrition Director, is leading the charge and organizing the different school lunch teams.  It’s her job to juggle getting the most nutrition in the lunches and keeping the budget of $1.00 per child.  I don’t envy her challenge.

We took the chefs to visit Northwood High School, Moncure School, and the brand new Pollard Middle School to give them a taste of what they would be working with.  There was a lot of enthusiasm from the school lunch teams.

After the chefs develop their new menus, the school lunch teams will serve them up over three days in April. Students will also have opportunities this month to interview the chefs at their restaurants.

We think The Chef Challenge is going to be a lot of fun.  It will give us a chance to learn about some of the myths and realities from behind the counter of our county’s largest food service organization.  And it will give Chatham County Schools some exposure to our mission of local food and sustainability. And of course we love working with the kids.

More to come!  Next steps are the menu creations, teaching the teams to create these for the 17 county schools and then implementation.  Can’t wait to see what unfolds!

–Tami Schwerin is executive director of the Abundance Foundation in Pittsboro.

March 3, 2011 at 10:24 pm Leave a comment

New US food guidelines sound like Michael Pollan

Remember when the government’s food pyramid looked like an ad for the beef, pork, poultry and dairy industries? And the Reagan administration tried to convince us that ketchup and pickle relish were vegetables?

Never mind that studies showed Americans were consuming way too much fat, salt and sugar and way  too little fruits and vegetables.  USDA officials kept on telling us to fill our plates with steak, cheese and bread; they were afraid to mention too loudly that soda and and potato chips weren’t so good for us.

Well the times they are a changin’ my friends.  It took a major health crisis to get their attention, but federal officials have finally admitted that obesity and diabetes are killing us and that we have to change our eating habits.

Obama’s agriculture and health advisers are ready to turn the page with brand new federal dietary guidelines. (Never underestimate the influence of the First Lady.)

Some of the guidelines sound like Michael Pollan: eat real food, not too much, mostly plants. Seriously.

Suzanne Havala Hobbs at UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health has a great summary of the most surprising recommendations in the proposed guidelines on her fine blog, On the Table, which I’ve excerpted here:

  • “Move to a plant-based diet. Eat less meat, and make fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, seeds and nuts the foundation of your diet.
  • “Increase your kitchen IQ. Get educated about nutrition, and learn to cook for yourself. Learn basic food safety skills, and eat more meals at home.
  • “Support greater access to fresh fruits and vegetables for everybody by increasing their availability in grocery stores, farmers markets and other outlets.
  • “Advocate greener, sustainable approaches to the growth and distribution of vegetables, fruits and whole-grain breads and cereals.
  • “Put pressure on the food industry, including restaurants, to offer healthier foods lower in sodium and added sugar, with more whole grains, fewer solid fats and smaller portions.”

Officials also want to know what we think. You have until July 15 to send in your comments. You can learn more and read the executive summary and full report online.

If the administration adopts these recommendations, they may just have to put some new policies and resources on the table to help fulfill them. Now that would be change we can believe in.

June 23, 2010 at 10:38 pm 1 comment

Quote of the Week

“Here’s the thing–we can build shiny new supermarkets on every block, but we need those supermarkets to actually provide healthy options at prices people can afford. And we can insist that our schools serve better food, but we need to actually produce that food….

“We need you not just to tweak around the edges, but to entirely rethink the products that you’re offering, the information that you provide about these products, and how you market those products to our children.

“”I’m asking you to actively promote healthy foods and healthy habits to our kids.  Just as we can shape our children’s preferences for high-calorie, low-nutrient foods–with a lot of persistence, we can also turn them on to high-quality, healthier foods as well.”

–First Lady Michelle Obama, keynote address to the Grocery Manufacturers Association, representing the nation’s largest food businesses.

March 17, 2010 at 10:23 pm Leave a comment

Four ways to improve school nutrition now

My favorite nutrition writer, Suzanne Havala Hobbs, shared four great ideas for improving school food programs, in her “On the Table” column in The News and Observer. Hobbs, a licensed, registered dietitian and clinical associate professor at UNC, said that with runaway obesity and other food-related health problems we can’t afford to wait for the USDA to update its school lunch and breakfast guidelines. Here are her recommendations for solutions we should begin cooking up right now at the state and local level — with my two cents in brackets:

1) Change prices to encourage healthier food choices at school. Lower the cost of fruits and vegetables and increase the price of french fries, pizza, desserts and junk foods. [Now that would be a refreshing change. Why can’t our local school boards set some standards?]

2) Strengthen standards for foods sold in vending machines, school stores and a la carte food sales. North Carolina has one of the weakest policies in the country. [This could be done at the state or local level.]

3) Apply nutrition standards to school fundraisers. It’s a bad idea to enlist kids in selling uhhealthy foods to their families and friends. [Now you’re talking. PTA Presidents take note.]

4) Pass a law to limit the marketing of unhealthy foods in schools. [Why not? After all, we don’t let guns in our schools, why should we let junk food in that’s hurting our kids?]

That’s just a start. I plan to share Suzanne’s ideas with my local school board and school board candidates running this year. Click here to read her whole column and be prepared to get hooked. You can read her regularly in The N & O or at On the Table, her blog . She can be reached at

March 3, 2010 at 8:32 pm 2 comments

Slow Food New Year

Here’s a way to start the new year right AND support fresh local food in our local schools.

Slow Food Triangle’s Second Annual Traditional Southern New Year’s Day dinner will celebrate regional culinary traditions, local farmers and artisan food producers. This year’s meal also will raise much-needed funds for a pilot local food project at Durham’s E.K. Powe Elementary School.

Dinner is from 4-7 pm on Friday, January 1, on the 2nd floor of Building 2 in the Golden Belt complex (807 E. Main Street, Durham 27701). Enjoy traditional local collards, cornbread, and hoppin’ john, as well as fresh, hearth-based loaves, sweet potato pie, and more. Admission is $15 for Slow Food members, $18 for non-members, and free for children 10 and younger.  Please BYOB and to minimize waste, bring your own plate. Slow Food Triangle and event sponsors will provide the food and some beverages. 

The E.K. Powe Elementary pilot program is a collaboration between school staff, parents, and Slow Food Triangle volunteers to introduce a “Good Taste Bar” in the cafeteria 1-2 times per month from February through June. Lunch offerings will be prepared using fresh, local ingredients and conform to standard federal school nutrition guidelines. Current menu items under consideration include pizzas, tacos, sandwiches, and a salad bar – all prepared with locally grown and sourced ingredients.

Interested in volunteering? Contact

Sponsors include:  Slow Food Triangle, Golden Belt Arts, Sage & Swift Catering, Anson Mills, The Splinter Group, Scratch Seasonal Artisan Baking, Farmer’s Daughter, Wine Authorities, Docusource of NC, Homeland Creamery, and Counter Culture Coffee.

December 21, 2009 at 10:26 pm Leave a comment

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