Hello, I am Chef Timothy Cipriano, Executive Director of Food Services for New Haven, CT Public Schools; proud father of 3 children; strong supporter of Farm to School programs; Co-chair of Share Our Strength’s Taste of the Nation New Haven, a fundraiser to end childhood hunger and I have a monthly cooking segment on the CT CBS affiliate. In my spare time I am a bit of a foodie and beer connoisseur, and I enjoy spending time outside with my kids visiting our local farms and learning about our local agriculture, after all my moniker is the Local Food Dude (grass fed beef, heirloom tomatoes or maple syrup, there is always a new adventure!). Check out my blog http://www.nhschoolfood.blogspot.com/ or follow me on Twitter @localfooddude.
The First Lady gave the opening remarks at the summit, saying that “we all need to do our parts as well, because the fact is, that our kids didn’t do this to themselves.” Administration officials attending included Education Secretary Arne Duncan, Office of Management and Budget Director Peter Orszag, Surgeon General Regina Benjamin, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, and Deputy Secretary of Agriculture Kathleen Merrigan. After Mrs. Obama made brief welcoming remarks, Domestic Policy Adviser Melody Barnes took over encouraging a ‘walk and talk moment’ and said it was time for “all hands on deck,” as the task force focuses on its report for the President. Then each administration official spoke briefly. There was a brief Q & A with the audience of participants, and then Barnes dismissed them for breakout sessions.
I participated in the school food discussion that was moderated by Kevin Concannon of the USDA. The participants were tasked with identifying 3 to 5 of the best ideas to present to the writers of the roadmap for the task force. The ideas from our group were:
1. Increasing nutritional standards across the board for ALL food in schools including meals, snacks and competitive foods;
2. Enhance professional training for all those involved in putting food on the tray: food service, custodians, and all adults in the school
3. Reinvent the meal production and its delivery: kids involved in preparing food, local procurement, schools gardens, etc. Find funding for this. We need to rethink the business of meal production and its delivery with programs such as Farm to School. The schools that have gardens and Farm to School programs are some of the most progressive in the country. We need to educate school nutrition professionals about the myths of USDA regulations: buying LOCAL and having school gardens is not only acceptable but encouraged from USDA. Funding for Farm to School programs is included in Child Nutrition Reauthorization.
4. Nutrition education needs to happen across all classrooms and in the café. Students are in school to learn; meal times are the perfect time to learn about proper nutrition. Offering fresh, healthy foods at lunch is a positive learning experience. (Photo is of me and the Students at Edgewood School during an afterschool cooking program, we made a veggie stir fry!)
5. Integrate incentives to make positive change happen
New Haven is one of many school districts leading the way of offering healthier food options in schools and enhanced education in healthy eating. We have received a number of grants for improving the food in schools including expanding breakfast offerings and modernizing the food preparation equipment in schools. Additionally, we are increasing the amount of fruits and vegetables available to students (some from local farms), we have added roasted chicken on the bone to the menu at all schools and have significantly reduced the amount of breaded proteins by eliminating breaded chicken nuggets, chicken patties and mozzarella sticks. We took a big step a year ago by removing all a-la-carte snacks from K-8 schools (i.e chips, cookies, etc.) and are working to incorporate more vegetarian options into the school lunch menu.
Additionally, school gardens are becoming very popular in our schools and we are working on a plan to create a district farm that will educate students and produce ingredients to be used in the district’s meals.
I am both honored and excited to be working with The White House and USDA on this important initiative on combating childhood obesity. As a school nutrition professional it is very encouraging to have so much support from the federal government surrounding child nutrition. I would not be able to accomplish all that I do without my dedicated staff of food service workers. The workers have stepped up to the plate to work with me on my team. We now make mashed potatoes utilizing fresh local, red potatoes that come in a 50# bag with DIRT on them and have to be cleaned, cut, steamed and mashed! These workers have rallied around the idea of utilizing actual kitchen equipment (buffalo choppers, knives, robo-coupe & mixers) instead of the more popular kitchen equipment used previously (box cutters and can openers).
This is all possible and happening because we are all working as a team! Not just me and my workers but the states, Congress, The White House, USDA, School Nutrition Association, community groups, advocates, students, teachers, administrators and you too Mrs. Q! Your posts have opened up America’s eyes to school meals.