Saturday, August 27, 2011

Tales of a Lunch Lady: NOT Your Typical School Lunch.

If I were to tell you that I am a high school lunch lady what image would pop into your head? An overweight, bitter older woman with a hair net, blue eye shadow( with or without a lit Virginia Slim Cigarette hanging out of her mouth) wielding a heaping spoon of Sloppy Joe's made "EXTRA SLOPPY"? This image is what most of my friends and family think when I tell them that I have a new job cooking at a private high school. Why on earth would I sign up for a job doing THAT?! I have worked in and cooked at some of the best restaurants, golf courses and catering companies on the west coast. So what in the world am I doing cooking in a high school? It's simple, I am using my skills to make a difference by educating and investing in the next generation.

I work at Marin Academy High School, which is located in San Rafael, California. I cook the EXACT same food for the kids that I did for my high end restaurant patrons. Paella Tuesdays, Pad Thai Wednesday's, Artisan Pizza Friday's. We use organic meat, milk, and cage free eggs. ALL: stocks, soups, dressings, marinades and sauces are made from SCRATCH. The pasta is whole wheat and organic. The only thing in our freezer is local Strauss Creamery ice cream and frozen hand made veggie burgers. There is no high fructose corn syrup or trans fat allowed in the kitchen EVER- no exceptions. A farmer from Marin Organic brings me fresh produce from County Line and Star Root Farms every week. Some weeks he even brings me bags full of gleaned vegetables for free, 10 pounds of fennel? Aesthetically challenged green beans, chard, kale, beets?! Um... YES, PLEASE! Oh, and if I am missing any ingredient in my recipe, all I have to do is walk across the street to the student garden and get fresh herbs, kale, fava beans and squash. This is not your typical school, and I am not your typical lunch lady.

These kids eat beets faster then I can prepare them. They eat kale by the TRUCKLOAD.They love spinach, arugula and radicchio. They drink my apple balsamic vinaigrette by the gallon- seriously. I was on a roasted brussel sprout kick last year, so out of curiosity I ran it on the menu, turns out, the kids loved BRUSSEL SPROUTS! I am still surprised by that one! Cauliflower, chard, roasted fennel, bock choy, butternut squash, you name it these kids are all over it! One kid told me that he had been craving my stuffed portobello mushrooms all summer, so those will be back on the menu this next week. To me it is thrilling that I cannot clean and cut vegetables fast enough for the demand put on me by these 'veggie monger' kids!

There is great reward in cooking for and educating the next generation. Not only because I am a nutrition geek and a studying Nutritional Therapist, but because my heart honestly gets happy when kids eat nourishing foods. I take pride in NOT taking the shortcuts and actually cooking good, yummy, nourishing food! I am responsible for educating 400 high school kids for the next 26 weeks. Its a great responsibility, and I take it as a challenge to take these kids on a 'culinary adventure', introducing to them as MANY flavors and foods as I possibly can during this next school year. Monday, we are having Korean Beef Tacos with homemade Kimchi or Garden Pesto Pasta with sauteed summer squash and mint infused limeade. This is NOT your typical school lunch.

One can't help but to ask the questions: What would happen if we made it a priority and employed more passionate chefs at our children's schools? Could we actually get kids excited about cooking and eating healthy foods? Could that food experience educate kids to make better choices potentially lessening the childhood obesity epidemic? Could NUTRITION be the missing link to childhood behavioral problems? What are your thoughts?


  1. LOVE this! Gives me hope for the future and I wish more high schools were able to pay an actual chef to prepare healthy meals. Simply awesome.:)

  2. Thanks Angela!:) You are so sweet! Yes, we definitely need food change in our society.

  3. man,wish our high school had such great food like yer providing!

  4. This is sooo inspiring! I have been following you on facebook for a while and admire your work! I was going to ask you about your background and the school you are cooking for, and here are all my answers:)
    I live in New Zealand where one in 12 children are obese and one in 5 children are over weight! Our country would have all resources to lead healthy lives, our cows are still "free range" and people have their own gardens. Unfortunately they just put larger houses onto their properties, rather than growing their own veggies. But enough complaining, people like you give me hope and inspire me to at least be a sensible mum to our 2 year old son, who loves Sauerkraut and can't stand chocolate! Must be doing something right:)
    Good luck with your course, I have started to look for a similar education, as I'd love to become a nutritional therapist myself!