Originally published in Island Ad-Vantages, October 10, 2013
Deer Isle-Stonington Elementary school lunch gets a healthy makeover
Deer Isle-Stonington Elementary School principal Mike Benjamin, second from right, checks out the local, healthy food fare cooked up in the kitchen on Friday, September 27.
by Jessica Brophy
Kale chips, salad, roasted beets, polenta, roasted broccoli and Bianco sausage—the school lunch served to students and staff on Friday, September 27, at Deer Isle-Stonington Elementary School.
The lunch was a special event sponsored and organized by Island Culinary & Ecological Center, and represents the start of what ICEC hopes will be a revamping of the school lunch program. Chefs from The Kitchen Café in Boulder, Col. were invited to the school to participate.
Ingrid Bengis-Palei, founder and director of ICEC, said the long-term goal is to implement a pilot school lunch program. ICEC has been working on the idea of a pilot school lunch program for more than a year.
Max Mattes coordinates the pilot program for ICEC, which hopes to pick up speed this year. Its primary goal at the moment is to “get a lot less processed foods” into school lunches, said Bengis-Palei. Local food is good too, she said, but the first goal is more “from scratch” cooking.
Bengis-Palei is convinced it’s possible to encourage that transition to food that is from scratch, even though the hours of the kitchen staff at the elementary school have been slimmed down in recent iterations of the school budget.
“It’s our goal that this program doesn’t affect the school budget,” said Bengis-Palei.
At the October 1 school board meeting, Superintendent Mark Jenkins reported that the elementary school lunch program had gone over budget in the 2012-13 school year. Board chairman Mark Cormier said that the elementary school food budget often comes in over budget. At the meeting, Jenkins said that there may need to be a broader conversation about the food environment and choices facing the school district in coming years.
Elementary school principal Mike Benjamin said that implementing a change while staying in budget will be a challenge.
“It’s something we have to work on,” said Benjamin, who acknowledged that in recent years, the staff hours in the kitchen have been cut back. Benjamin said there are some considerations of how to be creative in the kitchen while maintaining the budget, such as using the kitchen as a teaching opportunity for students and potentially involving them in food preparation.
Overall, Benjamin said he was pleased with the lunch’s success. “Every student tried everything,” said Benjamin. “And while not every kid loved everything, it accomplished the goal of exposing children to some new food.”
Parent Kimberly Hutchinson said her daughter, Grace, loved the kale chips.
Dennis Phelps, Executive Chef de Cuisine at the Kitchen Café in Boulder, said visiting Deer Isle and working with the kitchen staff at the elementary school was good fun.
“Working with Forrest Dow, the chef at the school, and the rest of the staff was excellent,” said Phelps. “Everyone was welcoming.”
Phelps, who said he has worked with Bengis-Palei for seven years, enjoyed seeing the island, visiting farms and seeing where the seafood he and his fellow chefs cook on a regular basis comes from.
The Kitchen, which has a series of restaurants, also has a nonprofit arm called The Kitchen Community Foundation, which funds “teaching gardens” for more than 30,000 students in school districts across the country.
Bengis-Palei said the lunch on September 27 was not a solitary event. “We’d like to do something monthly and work up to one day per week,” she continued.
In a press release about the lunch, ICEC stated it will “begin the pilot program by training the kitchen staff in the preparation of an alternative menu within the school lunch program, forming an outreach committee of parents, teachers, and staff to introduce DISES children to experimenting with new foods, offering them choices grounded in their own participation and preferences.”
That choice, said Bengis-Palei, is important to engaging students in both learning about and doing healthy eating. It is important, she continued, to keep students involved in the process.
Benjamin said the process will take time. “Change doesn’t happen tomorrow,” he said. “But the goal is to stretch people’s ideas about what good food is.”
For more information about Island Culinary & Ecological Center, visit edible island.org.