Students at the Village School in Eugene, Ore., enjoy daily plant-based vegan entrées, like this brown rice and seaweed sushi bowl.
WASHINGTON—Five public school districts earn Golden Carrot Awards from the nonprofit Physicians Committee during National School Lunch Week, Oct. 12 to 16, 2015, to celebrate each food service teams’ leadership with delivering plant-based entrées to its K-12 students.
Walker Jones Education Campus, a pre-K to 8 school that operates within D.C. Public Schools, and The Village School, a K-8 school located within Eugene, Ore., tie for the grand prize this year. The Physicians Committee will provide $2,015 to each school district. Runner-up awards, each with a $500 cash prize, go to Atlanta Public Schools, Santa Barbara Unified School District, and Odyssey Charter Schools.
“These schools are paving the way for a bright and healthy future,” says Cameron Wells, M.P.H., R.D., associate director of clinical dietetics for the Physicians Committee. "Imagine cafeterias brimming with colorful salad bars, fresh, nutrient-packed entrées, and colorful sides of fruit that shape students' palates so that they reach for that healthful option over their lifetime, knowing that it is not only good for them, but also delicious.”
Establishing healthful dietary patterns in childhood helps prevent future risk of diet-related diseases like diabetes, obesity, heart disease, and certain forms of cancer.
The 2015 Golden Carrot Award recipients are:
D.C. Central Kitchen (DCCK) earns a grand prize Golden Carrot Award this year for its plant-based pilot program with more than 400 students at Walker Jones Education Campus, a K-8 school that operates inside of D.C. Public Schools (DCPS). DCCK will introduce the two most popular entrées from the pilot—a veg-out chili and powered-up pasta with chickpeas—as part of its main menu. The Washington-based food service provider ensures no food goes to waste. Extra food from the school lunch line is first offered to DCPS students and then used to create 5,000 meals each year for underserved residents at local homeless shelters, after-school programs, and rehabilitation clinics.
The Village School offers 200 students vegetarian and vegan entrées five days a week. Popular choices include brown rice and black bean bowls with vegan Yumm! Sauce™ (garbanzo beans, almonds, and nutritional yeast), sushi bowls made with rice, tofu, and seaweed, and chickpea coconut curry. Students stop at the salad bar first, then select a hot entrée, and finally are provided with a selection of salad dressings and toppings. Students are sometimes offered “thank-you bites” as a fun exit ticket from the school lunch line. This ensures new entrées, like quinoa and red beans with dragon sauce, are successful, while old favorites remain in high demand. The parent-led food service team keeps costs down by purchasing supplies in bulk and planning simple, healthful meals.
Atlanta Public Schools (APS) offers students salad bowl stations and a hot vegetarian entrée as daily options in every school. Older students can become wellness ambassadors and younger peers participate in health events like Fruit and Veggie Land, where they meet local farmers and learn the importance of consuming healthy produce through storybooks, fun activities, and eating a vegetarian school lunch meal. From taste tests with celebrity chefs to the “More Please” campaign, a move that lets 50,000 students take a second trip to the salad bar at no extra cost, APS school nutrition director Marilyn Hughes, Ph.D., R.D., L.D., and district wellness coordinator Kiki Frazier, M.S., R.D., L.D., shine light on how to serve and promote APS's nutrition and wellness initiatives. Student focus groups lead to in-demand options—spicy black bean vegetable wraps, garden vegetable flatbread sandwiches with hummus, and vegetarian chili—to cater to students’ evolving taste buds.
Odyssey Charter Schools provides 1,500 pre-K to 10 students in Orlando, Fla., with a farm fresh salad bar and made-from-scratch, plant-based options every day, including veggie burgers, tofu tacos, and black bean tinga, a popular dish made with black beans, tomatoes, and chipotle peppers. In an area marked by food deserts, students at Odyssey acquire a healthier set of eating patterns and understanding of nutritious choices at school, which they often pass on to their parents. Through local partnerships with farmers, the University of Florida’s Family and Nutrition Services, and Columbia University's Teacher's College, Odyssey’s curriculum works in tandem with the school lunch program to help all children reach peak potential. Through strong fiscal management, Odyssey Charter Schools Healthy Café breaks even on financing the school lunch program. This school year founder and CEO Constance Ortiz will launch an organic aquaponics and geoponic farm on a 20-acre campus where students can harvest fresh produce, acquire lifelong entrepreneurial skills, put STEM-focused lessons into practice, and serve the community with one of its greatest needs: fresh fruits and vegetables.
Santa Barbara Unified School District (SBUSD) serves more than 7,000 students daily with meals that include everything from gourmet salads to beet and spinach smoothies. Grilled veggie burgers with hummus, a four-bean chili verde, and a veggie pozole made with Napa cabbage earn high marks from students, teachers, and staff. Former restaurateur Nancy Weiss runs the food service program, which serves restaurant-quality meals that earn accolades and ensure a profit for the once-faltering program. Paul Cronshaw, D.C., a former chiropractor, plays a key role in helping his high school students form new eating habits by providing plant-based lesson plans during his biology, science, physical education, and health classes. Students have the ability to put Dr. Cronshaw’s “Let food be thy medicine” mantra into practice as they sample his kale smoothies after class and head out to one of five high school mobile cafés, which serve creative and freshly prepared entrées like the Veggie Brown Rice Bowls with Garlic-Jalapeno Pinto Beans. The combination of nutritious and delicious entrées remains key to the school lunch program's success.
Educating students about disease-fighting foods comes at a critical time. Less than 10 percent of U.S. adults consume at least two to three cups of vegetables each day and 97 percent fall short on recommended fiber intake. Obesity has doubled in children and quadrupled in adolescents over the last three decades.
Plant-based options contain twice as much fiber and iron, higher amounts of calcium, vitamin A and vitamin C, and are lower in total fat, saturated fat, and free of cholesterol, when compared to the averages for standard lunch entrées.
For more information about the Golden Carrot Awards please visit HealthySchoolLunches.org.
The Golden Carrot Awards
The Golden Carrot Awards, established in 2004, recognizes food service teams in both public and private school districts doing exceptional work to improve the healthfulness of school lunches. The Physicians Committee looks for programs that move fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes as a side entrée to the center of the plate, educating K-12 students about the important link between diet and health.
Founded in 1985, the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine is a nonprofit health organization that promotes preventive medicine, conducts clinical research, and encourages higher standards for ethics and effectiveness in research and medical training.