Sowing Veggie Seeds in School Foodservice: PCRM’s Golden Carrot Awards Honor Innovation
No one watching chef Beth Collins whip up a batch of braised tofu or vegan sausage for the students at Ross School in East Hampton, New York, would dare call her a typical lunch lady. Ditto for Gloria Boccato, director of food services for the Los Angeles Leadership Academy, a charter school in one of that city’s neediest districts. Boccato—sans hair net—can often be found on early-morning patrols of local produce markets, looking for the freshest food possible for her daily salad bar.
These and a growing number of other school foodservice professionals around the country are getting creative about one of the biggest challenges facing society today—how to get kids to eat more healthfully.
But anyone who reviews school menus on a regular basis knows that situations like these are the exception, not the rule. Artery-clogging meat, chicken, and dairy products dominate most menus. Nutrition information is often supplied by junk-food manufacturers. And many kids are more likely to get an outing to McDonald’s than a field trip to a local produce farm. After four years of conducting its annual School Lunch Report Card, PCRM’s nutrition staff knew better than anyone just how much change was needed on our nation’s lunch lines.
As PCRM nutrition director Amy Joy Lanou, Ph.D., says, “If today’s kids are going to beat the epidemics of obesity, heart disease, diabetes, and cancer awaiting so many of them, we need to get creative about promoting healthy vegetarian food.”
An Incentive to Go Veg
So this past fall, Dr. Lanou and her staff announced PCRM’s first-ever Golden Carrot Awards. The goal was to reward those foodservice professionals moving in the right direction and inspire others to do the same. PCRM’s staff solicited entries from around the country, looking for programs doing an exceptional job of promoting healthy habits and providing healthful foods, especially vegetarian and vegan options.
The entries poured in. Although most foodservice staff have yet to learn that dairy products, chicken and fish are not health foods, the winning schools are all doing a good job of providing vegetarian alternatives, boosting fruit and vegetable consumption, and reducing fat intake.
Berkeley Gets the Big “Carrot”
|Karen Candito, director of nutrition services for Berkeley Unified School District and winner of PCRM’s 2004 Golden Carrot Award
Berkeley Unified, a district that serves nearly 9,000 students, and its director of nutrition services, Karen Candito, won the grand prize. “Berkeley Unified really impressed us,” said Dr. Lanou. “Candito and her staff have done an extraordinary job of providing their students with healthy, diverse menus with lots of vegetarian options, and teaching kids about the importance of good nutrition.” Dr. Lanou also pointed to the school’s famed gardens, “International Food Court,” commitment to organic ingredients, and bans against fried foods, sugary desserts, and soda.
Three second prizes were also awarded:
- Gloria Boccato, director of food services, Los Angeles Leadership Academy, California. At this charter school in one of LA’s poorest neighborhoods, Boccato believes that good food and nutrition will help her students overcome their economic and social challenges. Some of Boccato’s menu innovations include offering tofu and beans at the salad bar; eliminating hydrogenated oils, sugar, soda, and refined flours; and using only whole grains and fresh vegetables.
- Beth Collins, executive chef, Ross School, Long Island, New York. Collins believes that a focus on organic, sustainable, regional, and seasonal foods will help promote lifelong health and well-being for the students at this private school. A joint study by the Harvard Medical School and the Centers for Disease Control found that 75 percent of the students’ parents have been inspired to change the way they cook at home.
- Penny E. McConell, director of food and nutrition services, Fairfax County Public Schools, Virginia. One of the largest school districts in the country, Fairfax regularly offers vegetarian and vegan menu options. Students and parents are taught about the full range of calcium-rich foods including green leafy vegetables, fortified cereals, and nondairy milks.
PCRM announced the winners during National School Lunch Week, October 11-15, 2004.