Hello! My name is Ben Filippo, and I work for a company called Butter Beans, Inc
. Butter Beans, started by two working mothers, provides delicious, healthy, seasonal lunches for students and faculty at independent schools, as well as hands-on cooking classes and a seasonal food and wellness curriculum for students in all schools. Mrs Q. has invited me to share with you a few of my experiences working behind the lunch line and cooking one-on-one with students at Butter Beans.
Behind the line
On a daily basis, I get to see students enjoy wholesome great food and expand their ideas of what’s good. Our menu is full of familiar foods that we all love and have little time generally to make from scratch ourselves (Butter Beans does make everything in house from scratch): meatballs, lasagna, chicken pot pie, mac-n-cheese, enchiladas, etc. We also include “exploration foods” – foods that may be less familiar, which we serve up in small portions to test, before deciding to add them to our official menu rotation.
Kale was one such “exploration food” this season. Kale is one of those vegetables that many adults have a hard time getting excited about. So when kale salad showed up on our menu, I was a bit wary.
At first, the students were very curious as to what it was – some thought it was spinach or lettuce. A few of them knew what it was, but most were hesitant to try this infamous dark leafy green. After the students had gone through the line and were at their tables, we took the kale around the cafeteria to offer a tasting, talking up the accompanying sesame vinaigrette. “It’s a really tasty salad, just with a different sort of green than your typical lettuce or spinach, and we promise, it’s delicious!”
A few students tried it, and low and behold, there was soon a line calling out “kale salad please!” We told them how kale is one of the most nutrient dense foods around (aka, one of the healthiest things you can eat!) as we made our rounds. The kale salad made it’s way on to our regular rotation and is now a favorite amongst students and faculty alike. More recently, sautéed collared greens have also made the cut on our winter menu.
Cooking after school
Teaching kids how to cook healthy meals, and inspiring them to want to eat healthy foods can be a challenge. Many of them want to see how things like hamburgers and french fries are made, so vegetarian options can be a tough sell. This past semester, while teaching after-school cooking classes, I learned a lot about what matters to the students about food. The first thing is that kids want to eat something that sounds tasty, that is the first selling point. Instead of calling our beef kibbe (a Lebanese dish of beef and grains) by its official name, we describe it as “Middle Eastern Meatloaf” and immediately the response improves.
In cooking class, when we made sweet potato fries, the students were not initially excited. “Why can’t we make REAL fries?” they asked. I told them how I make sweet potato fries all the time as a healthy snack (it helps to have good rapport with the studentsJ) and that I knew they would all like them, they just needed to give the sweet potato a chance. I mean, it’s a potato – just sweeter and more colorful! When they finally came out of the oven, they couldn’t get enough of them! “I want to make these at home!” they proclaimed. By the end of the semester, the students had tried all sorts of new vegetables, made pizza sauce, dumplings, lentil burgers and even paneer (Indian Cooking Cheese) from scratch. On the last day of class, I got some big hugs with thanks for showing them how healthy foods can be just as tasty as anything else, especially when they made it themselves!
What’s for lunch on a typical day at Butter Beans?
Chicken fajitas with sautéed peppers, rice and black beans, Mexican pesole (hominy corn soup) with sour cream and pico de gallo, turkey and cheese sandwiches, and the makings for a great salad: mixed salad greens, hummus, pita, olives, shredded cheese, celery, tomatoes and hard boiled eggs and blueberry yogurt.