Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Tuesday 4/27: Guest Blogger: A Small Oasis Of School Lunch Sanity

As promised this week we have guest blogger, aspiring documentary film maker and Mom, Ayesha Ali Ahmed, whose daughter also attends Pre-K 3 -Mile Square School at the Rue Building. Check it's real food!

•••• Would you believe me if I told you that there is a small oasis of school lunch sanity in this mile square island we call home? I almost feel like I’m about to give away a culinary secret, the likes of which food hounds ferret and hide for fear that too many palates will spoil it’s delicate taste.But such is the power of technology, no ‘not so secret’ secret is safe.

Mile Square, the provider that runs the Abbott program at the Rue Building (where my daughter is enrolled) has hit the mother lode of good problems to have. Because they are a mixed use facility (including low income day cares), they don’t follow the School Lunch Program, they follow USDA’s Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP) eligible only to facilities in which 25% of the children receive reduced or free lunch. They further subsidize the lunch (since no one pays) by using funds from their before and after care programs. Like I said, it’s a good problem to have for everyone involved and here’s why. They make their own food in their own kitchen and it’s delicious.

I visited the kitchen this morning, met the chefs, poked my nose around in pantries and freezers and boiling caldrons of beany goodness, took pictures and asked many annoying questions which were graciously answered.
This is a fully functioning kitchen with two local women who get in at 6:30 am and cook from scratch. And when I say scratch, I mean it. The handy man goes out on almost a daily basis to procure the ingredients, meat from Shoprite (always hormone and steroid free), vegetables from a local shop, whole wheat bread delivered from Petcher’s Bakery. And then they do what people have been doing since time immemorial prior to breaking bread, they make it! (They don’t actually make the bread, but they do make everything else.)
 There is one pantry full of juice (they are also offer two snacks) and one of cans of tomato puree and that was all that I saw of anything prepared otherthan the cereals (Corn Flakes, Rice Krispies and Cheerios) and snackslike graham crackers, animal crackers and regular crackers. The only vegetables they buy frozen are peas and corn and the only fruit thatthey purchase canned is fruit cocktail (which I see on the menu only once a week) and canned pears (or was it peaches?)

Today’s menu was Spanish Style Rice and Beans, Tossed Green Salad, Wheat Roll, Orange and Milk - all  prepared fresh.
This is quite an endeavor obviously, the menu is rich and varied and accommodations are made for dietary restrictions on a daily basis. What was interesting wasthat today’s meal was entirely vegetarian and when I went up to the classes, it was being happily consumed. The children were sitting at their tables as the teachers and assistants doled out of the food on plates (not styrofoam) and handed out napkins and a real fork and pouredplain milk and water. I’m getting giddy with the civility of it all.

So, how does this magic happen every single day of the school year and more (since Abbot is also a wraparound program)? It happens as much out of choice as it does out of a lack of it. Mile Square could just as well order the reheat and eat junk that others do and save a lot of money and time, but they buyingredients from their supplier US Foods and not food. Do they pay bucket loads of dough for this dough? It’s hard to tell because they get $70,000 to feed 90 children breakfast, two snacks and lunch. How that breaks up is hard to calculate on the fly, but they’ve promised to crunch some numbers for me and let me know.
Forgive me If I've painted a picture that is so soft-focused and diffused that you can't even focus your eyes, but this is an example, albeit small and contained, of what can be done. Fresh food not processed food products offered to growing children. I don't think that that is asking for the moon anymore than I believe the moon is made of cheese, delicious and unprocessed!  ••••


  1. Utopian in vision, but completely achievable. thanks for the reminder of that!

  2. Vision being the operative long as we have a vision of how we would like things to be we can work towards achieving it. Kind of like the saying: “Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you'll land among the stars.”