JoAnn Joseph, Cafeteria Manager at Milford’s Mispillion Elementary School chose a unique way to promote National School Lunch Week, held throughout the country October 15 through 19. As part of this year’s theme, “School Lunch – What’s Cooking?” which celebrates the healthy options added to school lunches as part of the USDA’s Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, Joseph and her staff decided to use the promotion to encourage students to try new vegetables.
“We wanted kids and parents to realize that school lunches are just as important as their studies,” Joseph said. “When children don’t eat, they cannot learn, and since our school has 60 percent of the students on free or reduced lunches, meals at school become critical. We serve 500 students lunch, but only 260 for breakfast. We understand that some are eating at home, but we are concerned that too many skip breakfast and do not take advantage of the fact that breakfast at school is free for everyone.”
Joseph sent a request to all grade levels in the school asking each level to choose from one of the vegetable categories set forth by the USDA. First graders chose from a list of starchy vegetables including corn, green peas, green lima beans and potatoes, and the winning choice was green lima beans. Second graders chose from the beans and peas category, which included black beans, black-eyed peas, garbanzo beans, kidney beans, lentils, navy beans, pinto beans and split peas, choosing lentils as their chosen vegetable. Third graders selected from dark green vegetables such as broccoli, collard greens, dark green leafy lettuce, kale, mesclun, romaine lettuce and spinach, with spinach coming out on top. Red and orange vegetables were the category given to fourth graders, who chose acorn squash from a list that included butternut squash, carrots, pumpkin, red peppers, sweet potatoes and tomatoes as well. Fifth graders were given “other vegetables” as a category, and chose from a long list of vegetables that included asparagus, cabbage, cauliflower, celery, eggplant, mushrooms, onions, green beans and zucchini.
“The fifth graders gave me the biggest challenge as they chose two vegetables – cabbage and green beans,” Joseph laughed. “Those are two vegetables you don’t usually think of cooking together. Luckily, I was able to find a recipe that used both of those ingredients.
Using the chosen vegetables, Joseph and her staff created a menu item for students to try, and a menu item was featured each day during National School Lunch Week. On Monday, students tried a Crisp Spinach Salad with a splash of fruit and raspberry dressing. On Tuesday, the cafeteria served a Baked Lima Bean Casserole using molasses, ketchup and vinegar. On Wednesday, the menu choice was a warm Squash and Apple Casserole with cinnamon and nutmeg. Thursday offered a Warm Lentil Soup with vegetables and barley. The week ended on Friday with a Quinoa Green Bean and Cabbage Casserole.
Students in Ms. Gibson’s class at Mispillion were at first hesitant to try the Lima Bean Casserole, and Ms. Gibson used the book “Green Eggs and Ham” to demonstrate how at the beginning of the book, the character did not even want to try the green eggs and ham, but at the end of the book, he liked them. All of the students who tried the casserole said they liked it, and would eat lima beans again, even if they were cooked differently. Students who tried the dish wrote their name on a paper lima bean, had it glued to a plate and hung in the cafeteria.
During Wednesday’s lunch service, Bev Harp, Child Nutrition Supervisor, assisted in passing out samples of the Squash and Apple Casserole, while dressed as a giant cucumber. The children enjoyed receiving the casserole from Ms. Harp, who encouraged them to at least try it, and if they did not like it, they did not have to eat it.
“It was good,” said Allandra Russ, who also said she normally didn’t like squash. Allandra said she would eat the recipe again if the cafeteria offered the menu item. Juliana Diaz also liked the recipe, but said she eats squash at home and likes it. Abbey Allen, who had never had squash before, also enjoyed the dish and would eat it again.
“It tastes just like apple pie,” said Jamar Lovett, who had never tried squash before. He said he would definitely eat the recipe again.
Students who packed lunch were also permitted to try the recipes. In addition to the special menu items, students were given bookmarks as they went through the cafeteria line. Flyers were sent home to parents to let them know about the promotion as well.
“We are seeing more children taking fruits and vegetables now,” Joseph stated. “Hopefully, this trend will stay with them throughout their lives because we are making changes in how they view food at a young age.”