Creating Healthy School Food, Despite the Barriers | Civil Eats

Creating Healthy School Food, Despite the Barriers

The pizza Jamie Smith and his staff are making for students on every Santa Cruz City Schools campus is so popular he has designated Friday the one day of the week when students can order it. He calls it Fun Friday.

But pizza is not the only popular item on the menu these days. Since Mission Hill students petitioned Jamie for more choices, every day at lunch, middle school students can order a variety of deli sandwiches, salads, burgers, and more. While in these financial times, Santa Cruz City Schools does not have the means to outfit a central kitchen like the one chef Ann Cooper used to feed students in Berkeley, our staff is cooking in several school kitchens around the district, and providing students at every site with home-cooked meals. Even the burgers are made with whole-wheat flour and fresh, organic local produce from Alba. Jamie calls it Stealth Health.

Since switching to scratch cooking, Santa Cruz City Schools has seen the number of students participating in the lunch program jump; in mid-November Mission Hill served 187 lunches, compared to 140 in September. The lunch line at Branciforte Middle School has doubled, but that’s a good problem to have. Students are already calling their choices by name. For the Branciforte Bees those include the Queen Bee Quesadilla, the Hive Shaker Salad, and the Stinger Burger.

Another coveted item is the Chicken Teriyaki Rice Bowl, served in a sustainable cardboard takeout container. The quesadilla is also popular. Made on a whole-wheat tortilla with grilled chicken, low-fat low-sodium cheese, black beans, and salsa, it has, as Jamie says, “four meal components.”

As for the lettuce provided for sandwiches and burgers, I saw every student but one put the lettuce into her sandwich. One kid was trying to steal his friend’s jalapenos.

For the students who are still ordering burgers because that’s what they’re used to, Jamie has more in store for them than just the Stealth Health whole-wheat bun: he has been holding tastings at various schools. His latest was at Bay View, where he gave away a hackey-sack to any student who would taste the local Wildwood tofu. He cooked the tofu with fresh organic vegetables from Alba, and the students, many tasting tofu for the first time, said it “tasted like candy.”

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Cooked pumpkin mistaken for pineapple and tofu that tastes like candy? Lunch doesn’t get much better than that.

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Victoria Tatum lives and eats in Santa Cruz, California. To read her blog go to <a href="http://vtwilson.wordpress.com". Read more >

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