Farm to School program gets fresh food to cafeterias; up to workers to make it appealing to picky kids
BY SUSAN HYLTON World Staff Writer
Tuesday, February 19, 2013
2/19/13 at 7:53 AM
SAPULPA - Fruits and vegetables on school lunch trays are much less likely to come from a can at some schools these days.
Districts participating in the state Department of Agriculture's Farm to School program are developing partnerships with area farmers to get the freshest fruits and vegetables on the menu.
But child nutritionists and cafeteria workers know that just because it's teeming with antioxidants, that doesn't mean kids will eat it.
At a training session Monday in the kitchen at Sapulpa High School, Chef Jeremy Taylor showed how good knife skills play a huge role in getting kids to the plate.
Wielding a properly sharpened, forged steel knife, Taylor, the executive chef at St. John Owasso hospital, cut celery and fresh-pulled carrots into diagonal wedges, turnips into dice-like cubes and an orange into sections with the thinking that if the shapes are interesting, kids will pick them up.
"Amazingly, if you cut it like this, some people will eat them," Taylor said. "The kids won't want it right now, but they'll get there if we continually give it to them. Baby steps."
Chris Kirby of the Farm to School program said another trick is to offer "taste tester" samples while hungry students are waiting in the lunch line. They'll be exposed to a new taste and learn that it was grown locally.
"At least get it in their mouth to try it," she said.
Nancy Sitler, the child nutrition director at Sapulpa Public Schools, said the school system introduced bell peppers, cucumbers and cantaloupe to its menus this year.
Having been in the Farm to School program for three years, Sitler has found more possibilities of having fresh produce all year long than she previously thought existed.
Watermelon is grown especially for the school and is available from August through October.
Low-cost greenhouses allow growers to provide lettuce and tomatoes throughout the winter.
Root vegetables can also be grown in the cooler seasons and taste sweeter than their summer cousins.
"It's broadened my horizons on what can be grown," Sitler said.
Meeting all of the dark-green and orange-red food requirements for good nutrition can be tricky sometimes, she said.
Although iceberg lettuce doesn't satisfy the dark-green requirement, when it is mixed with fresh Romaine, kids are more likely to eat it because it looks more like what they've seen before, Sitler said.
High school students are the biggest challenge, she said.
"They're more defiant," she said, noting that some kids will dump their fruits or vegetables right in the trash.
But if they're eating a hamburger, they're getting it on a whole-grain bun, Sitler said, adding that 51 percent of the flour used in school breads now must be whole grain.
Susan Bergen of Peach Crest Farm in Stratford was cutting up raw treats, such as sweet potato sticks, that people typically aren't used to eating raw.
Raw sweet potato tastes not completely different from raw carrot. Add some homemade ranch dressing with herbs, and, voila - the students might just eat it.
"It's shocking how good food can be. We've got to talk them into it," Bergen said.
Lisa Griffin, the child nutrition director for Union Public Schools, agrees that high school students are the most difficult to tempt with healthy foods.
"They're already settled into their eating habits," she said.
But there are signs of success. Griffin said students love braised kale - the super food nutritionists rave about - seasoned with Canadian bacon.
"We go through 20 pounds (a day) at the high school," she said.
Also surprisingly popular, Griffin said, is broccoli slaw, made with Craisins and pecans in a honey mustard dressing.
Cafeteria workers also like to mix cherry tomatoes in a salad with basil and pesto.
"They love that," Griffin said of the students.
Things are going well enough that Union is establishing its own apple orchard at Peach Crest Farm.
The Farm to School program also has an educational component in the classroom.
Students learn where their food comes from, how ground wheat is baked into bread, and how bees produce honey.
"We're very much into it," Griffin said. "It's a win-win-win. It's good for the economy, the farmers and the school kids."
Original Print Headline: Cafeterias getting fresh
Susan Hylton 918-581-8381
Susan Bergen of Peach Crest Farm in Stratford (left) helps Robin Hill of Union Public Schools (center) wash vegetables during a training session for the Farm to School program at Sapulpa High School on Monday. Employees from several area school districts met at Sapulpa to participate in training for the Farm to School program. JOHN CLANTON / Tulsa World
Jeremy Taylor, the executive chef at St. John Owasso hospital, demonstrates cutting techniques that can entice children to include brightly colored fruits and vegetables in their diets. JOHN CLANTON / Tulsa World
Darla Stewart of Bristow Public Schools (from right), Angie Treat of Union High School and Aslyn O'Donnell of Sapulpa Public Schools prepare carrot fries during Monday's training session. JOHN CLANTON / Tulsa World
Jeremy Taylor, the executive chef at St. John Owasso hospital, demonstrates different cutting techniques Monday during a demonstration at Sapulpa High School. Employees from area school districts met at the school for training in the Farm to School program. JOHN CLANTON / Tulsa World
Chris Kirby (left) passes a piece of butter lettuce to Sharon Gray, a Bristow Public Schools employee, during Monday's training session. Kirby is the program administrator for the Farm to School program and an employee of the Oklahoma Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry. JOHN CLANTON / Tulsa World
Participants measure raw carrots as they prepare a meal at Sapulpa High School during Monday's Farm to School training. JOHN CLANTON / Tulsa World