FoodCorps Friday-Taking School Lunch Out of the Cafeteria and into the Community
By Athens Land Trust service member, Kana Miller
What do you think of when you hear the phrase, “School Lunch”? In my service experience so far, school lunch is a topic that comes up often. Whenever I hear someone talking about school lunch programs or whenever I am thinking about school lunch, dozens of questions and thoughts start popping up in my head…
How is school nutrition in my service district adding or increasing local food procurement? What are other school nutrition programs doing across the state to incorporate local food? Across the country?
How much food waste is happening in school cafeterias? What can be done to cut and decrease the amount of food waste?
Are the students in my school eating lunch?? Do the students like school lunch??
The list goes on and on…
Here in Athens-Clarke County, there are a multiple organizations, including Clarke County School District (CCSD) and the School Nutrition Program, that are asking themselves these very questions and are working toward making nutritious and delicious school lunch something the entire community is interested in! Many organizations, including those directly related to or working towards farm to school, and those that aren’t, came together to create the School Lunch Challenge. The School Lunch Challenge was first developed to honor the history of the National School Lunch Act. Former senator and former governor of Georgia, Richard B. Russell Jr., played a key role in drafting this important piece of legislation in 1946.
Brief Overview of the National School Lunch Act, photo courtesy of UGA FCS
Now in its third year, the School Lunch Challenge hopes to engage the Athens community in the past, present, and future of the school lunch program. Local chefs along with CCSD Family & Consumer Science (FACS) Teachers compete to create the most delicious, kid-friendly, and nutritious meals, which must follow the USDA National School Lunch Program nutrition guidelines. While the chefs and FACS teachers spend most of their time in the kitchen, cooking away, the rest of the event is full of cooking demos and interactive activities from the tabling community organizations. When the meals are ready, local students judge the competition, voting on their favorite. The winning meal will be put on the 2017 – 2018 school lunch menu for the whole district.
The School Lunch Challenge Local Chefs and FCS Teachers competing dishes! The dishes are listed starting on the top left corner of the tray and moving clockwise: Chicken Parmesan Sandwich, Thai Beef Tacos w/Cilantro Lime Slaw, Citrus Chili Chicken w/Mexican Rice & Black Bean Puree, Milk & Fruit Serving, Pesto Pita Bread Chicken Pizza w/side of Creole Style Corn (Maque Choux), and Honey Thyme Glazed Carrots.
This year, the event planners decided to add another exciting piece to the program; a student cooking competition involving the Athens Land Trust’s Young Urban Farmers (YUF)! Two teams from the YUF were invited to participate in this cook-off and were challenged to come up with a recipe that used collard greens (seasonal vegetable and a Georgia favorite, of course!) The two competing recipes were coconut curry collard greens and veggie noodle stir-fry.
A beautiful vegetable rainbow, a key component to the veggie noodle stir-fry recipe!
Throughout the whole event, the YUF were cooking up their dishes, creating enough to provide samples to the judges, the competing chefs and FACS teachers, and to the audience. While being on stage at Whitehead Elementary School may have been more in the spotlight than they bargained for, both groups had a fun time cooking and developing a little friendly competition. Both recipes were delicious but in the end John and Dontae’s coconut curry collards were the winners!
Winners of the Student Cooking Competition, John Anderson and Dontae Meadows, with their Coconut Curry Collards Recipe.
Overall, the 2017 School Lunch Challenge was a huge success! Over 100 people showed up for the event, to learn more about the National School Lunch Program and eat some delicious food. It was very exciting to have the YUF featured in the student cooking competition and in one of the cooking demos.
The week after the School Lunch Challenge, I used the winning coconut curry collard recipe for a cooking demo for Parent-Teacher Conferences at Hilsman Middle School. The dish created an enticing aroma that attracted parents and teachers throughout the afternoon and evening! The greens were a big hit and many were surprised to find out the greens were vegan. Many folks went home with copies of the recipe that night. All and all I’d say it was a win for collard greens and school lunch!
Action Shot from HMS Cooking Demo! Coconut Curry Collards in the Works