The Golden Carrot Awards: Celebrating Healthful School Lunches
The Golden Carrot Awards, established in 2004, recognize food service teams doing exceptional work to improve the healthfulness of school lunches. The Physicians Committee looks for programs that encourage students to eat more fresh fruits, vegetables, and plant-based entrées for improved health and disease prevention.
D.C. Central Kitchen (DCCK) earns the grand prize 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
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
Atlanta Public Schools offers 50,000 students daily salad bowl stations and a hot vegetarian entrée, including spicy black bean vegetable wraps, garden vegetable flatbread sandwiches with hummus, and vegetarian chili—which were developed with student focus groups. 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 a vegetarian lunch. From taste tests to the “More Please” campaign, which 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.
Odyssey Charter Schools
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. 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
Santa Barbara Unified School District serves more than 7,000 students daily with meals that include grilled veggie burgers with hummus, a four-bean chili verde, and a veggie pozole made with Napa cabbage. Former restaurateur Nancy Weiss runs the food service program, which serves meals that earn accolades and ensure a profit for the once-faltering program. Former chiropractor Paul Cronshaw helps his high school students form new eating habits by providing plant-based lesson plans during his biology, science, physical education, and health classes. Students put his lessons into practice as they sample his kale smoothies after class and head 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.
Many students also participate in the Youth Farm Project’s Farm to School Program, in which elementary-age students and teenagers grow and harvest fresh fruit and vegetables on farms and then prepare meals in the school district’s central kitchen.