New Canaan school lunch program ahead of the curve
Published 5:37 pm, Wednesday, January 19, 2011
Hollywood may have given school lunches a bad name. Whether it was "The Wonder Years," "Saved By The Bell," "90210" or various other programs, school lunches looked about as appetizing as prison food on television.
The barely edible sloppy joes, Salisbury steaks and JELL-O seem to be ancient myths compared to the food prepared at New Canaan Public Schools these days. Now the lunch menu is not only varied but even healthy and organic.
The federal government recently put out a bill known as the Health, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010. The program essentially allows federal funding of school meal and nutrition programs. It also allows more low-income families to provide their children with healthy food. Since New Canaan does not accept federal funds for its lunch program, the district not required to abide by these guidelines. Still, New Canaan's lunch program has been evolving for the past few years and is ahead of the curves when it comes to these requirements.
"We are way beyond this bare minimum," said Cobie Graber, a founding member of the New Canaan School District's Wellness Committee as well as a staunch advocate of healthy eating and fitness. "But it is always good to move forward."
"He has been instrumental in all of this," Graber said.
Gluck explained how the switch from processed to naturally foods has decreased waste in the cafeteria as well.
"When you buy processed food, you are a prisoner to the packaging," Gluck said. "When you buy fresh, you use what you need and that's it."
Graber nominated Gluck for a scholarship to the Institute for Integrative Nutrition. With the help of more than 250 people through an organization she started called "Nourish New Canaan," she was able to get support for a $10,000 grant that made it happen.
"He has eliminated processed food from school lunch and raised the quality standard for all of his vendors," Graber said.
Additionally, he has been partnering with local farms to find healthier sources for produce. The goal to incorporate local farms and ingredients is also a stipulation in the new act from Washington, yet New Canaan has been doing this for years now.
"Students now enjoy homemade soup stocks, whole grain pizza featuring fresh mozzarella, homemade veggie burgers and chicken nuggets made from fresh chicken breasts with whole wheat bread crumbs," Graber said.
So while maintaining their program well above the regulated minimum with more natural and fresh ingredients, they have also innovated through different items on the menu and keeping an ongoing dialogue with students. Many kids at the school have an opportunity to taste new choices before they ever make it to the menu.
"We've been transitioning for a while and just went full force to natural foods a few years ago," Gluck said. "I think more than government mandates, success involves the community and we have great involvement here in New Canaan. The people here want what is best for the town and what is best for their children."
The success of the lunch program is not lost on NCHS Principal Tony Pavia either.
"They have done a great job adapting to all the guidelines," Pavia said. "Anyone from outside the school always makes a comment on how great the lunch is here. The menu stays interesting as well. On any given day you could have some vegetarian sushi, chicken teriyaki or even whole wheat pizza. They have just done an outstanding job."
It looks like the days of the mean lunch lady with greasy food from your favorite television show are long gone. Perhaps it might be time for a more accurate portrayal.