School Food for Thought

November 2, 2018

Feeding children is no easy task and school menus typically reflect challenges that range from picky eaters to high food costs to kitchen staffing. School cafeterias are charged with providing healthy, balanced meals that kids will eat but finding a menu that addresses multiple objectives takes determination and know-how.

Food’s Purpose for Our Students

Green Chimneys Chef Amps up the Vegetables in School Menu

Green Chimneys Chef Ken Klepack

Over a year ago, Executive Director Ed Placke and Chef Ken Klepack started to talk about food as medicine, and its importance at a facility that serves three meals a day to children who have a range of health issues. A healthy diet is crucial to a child’s growth and development. It impacts their ability to learn, manage emotions, and feel their best.

In further educating himself about healthy foods, dangerous ingredients and kitchen efficiency, a concerted effort to revise – and revitalize – Green Chimneys’ menus was born. Ken began with a thorough inventory of all food items in stock. He cleared out those with unhealthy or questionable ingredients, or that were overly processed. “I was amazed at the prevalence of nearly inedible substances in so many of the foods we regularly used,” recalls Ken.

Tweaking and Assessing

Green Chimneys students were not happy at first. Crystal Light drink mix was a popular mealtime beverage as were a couple of sugared cereals. Ed and Ken spent time polling and talking with students as changes were introduced, gauging their reactions and seeing where improvements, or partial compromises, could be made.

The earliest menu modifications included:

  • Pizza served every other Friday instead of weekly, and no longer using a frozen product
  • Homemade salad dressings, often “amplified” with ground up vegetables
  • An expanded salad bar
  • Unsweetened beverage options such as fruit teas
  • Elimination of items such as pre-packaged chicken nuggets and hot dogs
  • Introduction of new vegetables and flavors/seasonings

Goodbye Artificial, Hello Healthful

At present, 99% of the kitchen’s cooking is from scratch and food purchase guidelines include “No artificial sweeteners, “No preservatives or dyes,” and “No fillers or non-food ingredients.” There is also a goal of reduced environmental impact so local produce is used as often as possible; cereal is served in bulk; and individual milk cartons have been eliminated.

“My mission is to help our students – and staff – eat as healthfully as possible each day and hopefully, expand their palettes and willingness to try new foods, as well,” says Ken. “Food can be medicine but is also meant for our enjoyment!”

Food is one of several important aspects of student health and wellness.
Learn more about Green Chimneys student life