Last March I wrote about Real Food For Kids (RFFK) and their 5th annual Culinary Challenge and Wellness Expo and how fun it was to attend workshops and sample dishes created by middle school and high school kids as they competed to have their recipe served as part of the regular lunch menu in Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS).
Since then, Real Food for Kids has continued to work towards improving our local public schools cafeterias, including with the addition of the 23rd salad bar, with 27 more to be installed during this school year and 91 more to come in the next 4 years. Some middle schools and high schools also offer delicious sandwiches, wraps and salads, daily barbecue and even a rotisserie oven making fresh chicken! This past Wednesday I dropped by our Elementary School to have lunch with Julia and check out the opening of the salad bar. There were several parents and staff eating with the kids and volunteering, guiding them as they learned how to serve themselves, but also showing that we adults are also excited about the change in the cafeteria.
I got to chat with kids on different tables and find out what they thought about the new addition – their impressions were pretty positive: “this salad is amazing!”, “this ham is awesome!”, “I liked that you get to choose which thing you want” or “the apples are so juicy”. Their observations led me to quickly talk about the fact that fruits and veggies taste “juicier” and more flavorful when in season, like the apples right now. Most kids had at least 3 choices from the salad bar on their plates, in addition to other items available in the cafeteria. I also liked the fact that the options are mostly familiar to them and already cut, making it easy to eat during the little time they have. How many times have you found a partially eaten fruit in your child’s backpack when you send it whole? Besides what the options are or how the food tastes, kids also learn valuable life skills by knowing the “etiquette” of self-serving and by experimenting with more or fewer options and quantities, trying to eat according to what they want and need without wasting food. The line moved pretty quickly as the fruits and veggies were just the right size for the kids to serve themselves. Parents were ready to assist kids in serving salad dressings, but a few kids were eager and ready to serve themselves, which reminded me that a lot of their excitement is because the salad bar is empowering them to be in charge of their meal in a way that adults are. There are still many things available in the school cafeterias that I wish were not there, not only because they are unhealthy but because they simply don’t taste good, as my children have noticed for themselves at times, but I am thankful that their school lunch options have just improved significantly.
The following morning, Julia asked if she could buy lunch again, which confirmed to me that she is excited about the salad bar and the new system. And, just as important, it is one less day of the morning madness of packing school lunches (but that’s another story).
If you would like to know more about RFFK and their mission, click here. If you would like to contribute towards affecting real change in the way our students are fed at school by making a donation to RFFK, click here. And mark your calendars: the next Culinary Challenge will be held at Hayfield Secondary School on March 17!