GREEN — Students at Green Hills School walked into the cafeteria Thursday to find an unusually hearty meal awaiting them: chicken alfredo pasta with roasted asparagus, followed by strawberry shortcake for dessert.
The students happily consumed their food — one student declared it better than the meals he ate at home — while at the same time learning the importance of eating healthy and supporting local businesses during the school’s inaugural “Chef Day.”
The day involved collaboration between Maschio’s Food Services, which provides meals for the K-8 school, and Tranquillity Farms, located about 4 miles away from the school. Representatives from each group were on hand to teach the students about the role of farms, including one in their own township, in producing the food they eat.
“It’s just a win for everybody,” said Green Hills School Superintendent Jennifer Cenatiempo. “It’s supporting our local farms and it’s putting better food in front of our kids.”
Cenatiempo said the school has been brainstorming ways to cook meals for students that are nutritious and enjoyable. The solution, said Maschio’s purchasing manager Mike Baldwin, is to highlight the full process of creating the food rather than simply showing the finished product.
“We get a lot of questions from parents, school boards, et cetera, on, how do we help the kids eat healthier?” Baldwin said. “Too many people want to try to force food down (to children); we take the alternative. We teach them where the food is coming from, the hard work that goes into it, nutrients that come out of it. We try to spark the interest at a younger age.”
Maschio’s reached out to Tranquillity Farms to add the concept of eating and buying local to the day. The farm supplied ingredients grown on the farm for each dish, including strawberries, asparagus, spinach and lettuce.
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“It’s nice for (the students) to be exposed to different vegetables and fruit that they can get right next door from the farm,” said Erin Lytle, part of the Freeborn family who owns Tranquillity Farms. “They all seem really excited to try this stuff, which is really awesome.”
Cenatiempo called the farm-to-table initiative her “passion” along with promoting health and wellness. Children who have a generally good diet should not be discouraged from eating sweets and other less healthy food, she said.
“The idea is not to say that you shouldn’t have anything that’s a dessert in your life,” Cenatiempo said. “Our objective here is just to teach kids balance — that it is absolutely acceptable to have a dessert but also to consider filling your plate with fruits and vegetables and whole grains and other healthy items.”
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Next year, Cenatiempo hopes to host monthly tastings that highlight a specific fruit or vegetable to further push her students to expand their palates. Based on the reception to Chef Day, the kids will be more than happy to learn more about their food.
“They walk in, they go, ‘Whoa, this is different,'” Baldwin said of Thursday’s event. “Once they say it’s different, you’ve got their attention, and then from there you can start to drop little seeds of knowledge. Hopefully, if one or two of these kids goes on to study agriculture and do something awesome, then we did our job.”