Last week I had lunch at Marcy Open School with Bertrand Weber, director of culinary and nutrition services for Minneapolis Public Schools. When Weber began in 2011, not only did most schools not have working kitchens, the nutrition center didn’t, either.
Since then, they’ve established a central culinary center and kitchen. It is currently being renovated with new pipes, drains, and refrigerators. Additionally, grants from Lifetime Fitness and others will go toward new equipment such as a 500-gallon sous-vide machine.
Sous-vide! Five-star technique at school lunch prices. The mind boggles.
As the quality of ingredients and preparations has risen, so has participation in the lunch program, though mostly in the students who qualify for reduced or free meals. For other students, there is still stigma attached to school lunch. Lunch participation jumps a little with a salad bar, and more significantly with a kitchen. Functional kitchens for schools around the city are happening at a rate of about ten per year.
Marcy’s kitchen is a few years out, but they got a salad bar last spring. I tried everything there: broccoli salad (nearly identical to one I’d made at home the night before), carrots, cherry tomatoes, garden salad, and a mix of tropical fruit with pineapple and papaya. It was a bright, colorful meal with a bigger variety of foods than I could have put in a lunch box that morning.
If you or your kids avoid school lunch because you think it’s not good quality or good tasting, I urge you to give it another try, especially if your school has a salad bar or kitchen. Go visit the kids in the lunchroom. See and taste for yourself the changes that are happening.
Want to find out more? Tours of the Culinary Center will resume in October when the renovations are done, but before that, you can come to the 3rd Annual Farm to School Community Barbecue on Thursday September 25, 2014, from 5-7:30 pm. This free family event at the Culinary Center features a locally-sourced meal, samples made by local chefs, and the opportunity to meet some of the farmers who grow food for our school meals. There will even be a corn shucking contest!
Minneapolis Public School Nutrition Services Website
Third annual Farm to School Community BBQ
Thursday, September 25th, 2014
5:00 to 7:30pm
812 Plymouth Avenue North, Minneapolis