- required school food programs to include more whole grains
- required school food programs to provide more fresh vegetables and fruits,
- removed a requirement for a meat or meat alternative during breakfast, allowing for more popular, low sodium and whole grain options as cereal, yogurt and oatmeal.
- improved opportunities for meatless offerings
- reduced overall sodium in meals (salt is often used to make up for a lack of flavor)
- helped schools serve healthier snacks, such as fruits, nuts and granola bars over the ever-popular cookies and candies.
Ultimately, school food cannot be separated from the school itself. The food has to be good, objectively, but it also has to be attractive to the students, they have to understand what they’re eating and why they need it. We do a tremendous amount of education, with students and parents, about our food and our food policy.
We encourage feedback, from students, parents and staff. In a recent AGC student newspaper, our students conducted a poll about lunch to publicize their preferences. Rather than tweeting about politicians, our students communicated directly with the decision makers in a mature and productive way. For the record, their favorite school foods are Chef’s Pozole and Whole-Grain Pizza, their least favorites are Mac & Trees and Sloppy Joes, and the most requested menu items were Tamales and Kale Chips (which have previously been on the snack menu.) Chef Eddie is an AGC parent himself, and takes seriously his role in our community. This winter, he will be teaching a cooking class for students and parents.
We are a community of learners and, at the same time, everyone is a teacher as well: faculty, staff, parents and students are asked to model for each other what an excellent relationship with food looks like. We have a food policy that applies to students, staff, and external events. Everyone is playing by the same rules. Staff are discouraged from even bringing in branded to-go cups, because the students will look up to them and associate that brand with something they admire.
What have we learned?
- Flavor is key and, contrary to popular opinion, can be achieved without sacrificing nutrition. We use a little agave and fruit to sweeten foods, and make everything, including salad dressing and ketchup from scratch, so we can ensure flavor as well as nutritional value.
- We work with the food service company to make sure we have the best ingredients—from organic kale crisps to hearty Manna bread.
- Our dishes are often familiar…and often not.81% of our students come from Hispanic families, so healthy traditional Mexican dishes like veggie pozole are a no-brainer, but we also want to introduce them to international flavors such as French crepes and Greek soup.
- We take our students’ opinions about food very seriously.We make a careful study of what the students like and what they leave on their plate and adjust menus accordingly.
- It can be a challenge to get a child to try something new, and it truly takes a village to raise a child who likes kale crisps. Our goal is to foster a culture of health. Staff model excellent nutrition by eating with students, consuming healthy snacks and encouraging wellness outside of school with a faculty wellness fund. Parents participate in food education, both through formal mandatory “parent University” sessions as well as events such as the “Taste of AGC,” which is like a Good Food fest for our school community.
- We teach what we preach: Our curriculum supports the food program and vice versa. Students understand the food cycle through “farm-to-fork” lessons and through visits to local farms, restaurants and factories.
- We’re all farmers: our students are responsible for every part of our school garden, from seed to harvest. When children grow kohlrabi, radishes and kale from seed they cannot wait to taste them.
What can YOU do?
- Take time. If your school doesn’t have the resources, volunteer, either to take on some food tasks yourself or to help them make the time! We ask our parents to volunteer 20 hours a year and we have many who well exceed that, often in the cafeteria. Everyone at AGC works overtime, including our kids, who have 17% more instructional time than a CPS school.
- Advocate. We explained to our food service provider that great food was something we would not compromise on. We also explain to all of our partners the benefits of helping us source local, organic food. We share everything we do and open our doors to press, partners, and visitors from other schools.
- Give what you can. Research schools, non-profits, and government agencies that are working to model positive food systems and support them however you can, through donations of time, money and other resources. To support AGC’s work to pilot and share exemplary school food initiatives, visit agcchicago.org/donate.