I ate school lunch again

Yes. You read that right. I ate lunch at school again. But it wasn’t my school. It was a different school – the Academy for Global Citizenship.

They serve organic school lunches. And most of my lunch was gluten-free. How do you like them beans?

I told you how I met the founder of the Academy for Global Citizenship, Sarah Elizabeth Ippel, in a previous post. She invited me to lunch, but our challenge was finding a day that I was off, but that her school was in session. It turned out we had one choice: March 7th.

It’s not hard to locate the school on a map, but it’s easy to miss from the street.

Don’t judge a book by its cover

It’s a small school doing big things:

  • Feeding the kids organic food prepared onsite by Chartwells and reimbursable under the National School Lunch Program
  • Offering curriculum with an emphasis on sustainability integrated in core subjects
  • Planting a school garden with a chicken coop with three laying chickens!

It is a testament to Sarah Elizabeth’s vision that she is pulling it off with astounding success rates:

  • 99% participation in the school lunch program
  • 98% of first graders reading at grade level

If you assume the school is located in Lincoln Park, think again. The Academy for Global Citizenship came about to relieve some of the overcrowding among schools on the south side of Chicago. If you drive through the area, there are boarded up buildings and desolate train lots. It fits the description of “food desert.”

According to Sarah Elizabeth, roughly 80% of her students qualify for free or reduced school lunch. Additionally, nearly 40% of her students are English Language Learners. It’s certainly not what I would expect from a school serving organic food.

Walking into the school, I saw the wall-sized world map at the door and other colorful decorations and posters in the hallway. Halfway down the main hallway, a small group of cheerful kids were waiting in line for lunch. As they entered the cafeteria, they saw a poster of “where the food comes from.”

Milk from Wisconsin, Bread from Chicago, Tomatoes from Michigan.

We joined the kids in the lunch line and went straight to the main attraction: the food. I felt like I was having lunch with an old friend as she explained the history of the school and detailed her vision for the future. (Note: I feel so lucky that eating school lunch for a year enabled me to meet so many amazing people. Sarah Elizabeth is one of those people I’m happy I have met.)

Talking to her, I got the feeling she is going somewhere, but the school is already on the map. It was one of the first schools to earn the prestigious Gold with Distinction rating under the HealthierUS School Challenge.

 They even compost (left, under sign)
The Deputy Secretary of Agriculture, Kathleen Merrigan, visited the school to award them with the distinction in person. How cool is that?

Sitting down at the table, I noticed that there was water and napkins readily available for the kids:

Reminds kids that they are sitting down to a real meal

But what about the food?

Sorry it’s blurry – I was shaking with excitement!

On the menu was “Brown rice and bean burrito with BBQ tofu steaks.” I declined the whole wheat tortilla, but I gobbled up the tofu, beans and rice with peppers, pico de gallo, kale chips and a sliced orange. I’ve been eating kale chips at home, but I never thought I’d see them on a school lunch tray.

Everything was delicious and prepared onsite! I was even able to meet the chef and chat ingredients!

But what did the kids think of the meal? I moved over to a table and asked one kid – let’s call him “Tim.”

I see empty trays!

The kids enjoyed the food – see it’s all gone! Sarah Elizabeth told me that initially there was some resistance and wonder about foods like kale chips, but after they saw them repeatedly on their trays and began harvesting these veggies in their schoolyard garden, they got used to new and different foods. It helped that Sarah Elizabeth invited families in for food tastings after school where family members not only got to sample lunch cuisine, but received recipe cards as well.

I chatted with “Tim” about his food. He said he liked it. We asked if he had had recess yet and after he responded, I told me that I worked at a different school that had no recess. He looked perplexed and asked me, “Well if they don’t have recess today, can they get recess tomorrow?”

“No Tim,” I replied sadly, “They don’t get recess tomorrow.”
He said that made him feel “sad.”

I didn’t tell him that my students also don’t get kale chips…

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19 thoughts on “I ate school lunch again

  1. The lack of recess time is what is freaking me out about sending my son to Kindergarten in the fall. They get a total of 40 minutes for lunch AND recess. Meanwhile it routinely takes my son 45/60 minutes to eat his lunch (and his dinner for that matter). I am hoping he will adjust but even so, he is looking at not much recess time for a VERY active little guy.

  2. Also — since tofu isn't anything to the USDA, the meatless alternative is the bean and rice burrito.

  3. This is SO inspiring.

    The sky is the limit if everyone takes part in the solution.

  4. Wow, the lunch you were given looks amazing. This school needs to come up with a manual for success that can be passed onto other schools looking to provide similar meals, but are not quite sure where to start and how to get there.

    I am curious to know if there are any students at this school are special needs or are diagnosed with ADHD and what kind of impact if any the school lunches have had on their condition. I think it's great that 98% of the first graders read at grade level. Is that mostly contributed to the food or do they happen to have very dedicated teachers as well? All great stuff that needs to be duplicated at more schools.

    Welcome back Mrs. Q! I hope you enjoyed your time off. Looking forward to reading the other posts in this series.

  5. I can feel your pain when having to explain other kids about the no-recess… or how other kids don't/can't have what they have. Hopefully "Tim" feels a thankful that he does. 🙂

  6. This is so great. It's amazing what one school can do and really affect that many kids. Thank you for sharing this.

  7. I just can't understand who thought no recess was a good idea. I teach music lessons to kids in school, and when they haven't gotten to go outside for recess, the concentration is WAY down…all that excess energy and nowhere to put it (except I suppose into fat cells?)…Grrr…

    That lunch looks great! I like that the kids are eating it–goes to show that you can feed kids healthy food.

  8. I wonder what the per-meal cost is for those meals? I'd love to know – if they can do it, other schools can too!

  9. Your chat with Tim broke my heart. Really it did. It horrifies, saddens, sickens and disgusts me that little tiny kids are wasting away the best years of their lives chained to desks and given 20 minutes to scarf food like they're prisoners who have to get back to their cells.

    It pisses me off, to be frank. There's no other way to put it. When the hell do kids just get to be kids?

  10. What a great looking lunch!!!!! I wish it were easier for schools to feed children healthy food.

  11. I used to work in an economically depressed area and I was always pleased by how many of those kids ate the veggies offered to them.
    They were hungry, so they ate. The cost per meal is the most important part of this story and it is not included Mrs. Q. Will it be in part 2?

  12. I poked around the school's website a bit. I'll admit…I started crying. 🙂 What a beautiful school. I hope I can find a school like that to teach in after I graduate.

  13. Wow! I saw real forks in your pictures! My daughter is always frustrated when I forget to pack a fork or spoon and she has to use a school spork. What an amazing looking meal. It looks like real food, like what I would serve at home. I wish more schools could/would prepare food on site.

  14. Thanks for all the great comments! It's really a special place. I loved being there.

  15. Hey what gives? The Great Lakes States wall map includes Minnesota and Iowa(?!) but not Lake Ontario, Pennsylvania or New York.

  16. I really like the Compost Recycle and Waste signs. Where can I get those for our school?
    Also a menu?
    THanks, would love to replicate!

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