Editor’s Note: Champions of Change is a weekly initiative to highlight Americans who are making an impact in their communities and help our country rise to the many challenges of the 21st century.
It is an honor to be named a Champion of Change by the White House for my work with school nutrition programs in the Pacific Northwest. Last Friday I joined a roundtable meeting with Administration officials and five other chefs from around the nation to discuss best practices for working with schools and teachers through the Chefs Move to Schools program.
We have an extraordinary opportunity in this country to influence a lifetime of healthy eating habits beginning with children and teens. Schools provide a perfect setting, both in the classroom and in the cafeteria. Chef volunteers with Chefs Move to Schools are ready to share their expertise to get kids excited about tasty, healthy foods.
In the classroom chefs can teach students through demonstration or hands-on cooking experiences. It could be something as simple as seasonal produce show-tell-and-taste, or a hands-on activity to build cooking confidence. Chefs in the classroom can also collaborate with the cafeteria to promote new healthy school menu items.
Chefs are school nutrition director’s allies. I recommend that school nutrition directors begin working with chef volunteers on simple projects. Chefs can provide 1-hour trainings on specific culinary techniques. For example, a knife skills lesson would help improve kitchen safety, efficiency, and could be tied into a new farm-to-school menu item that requires specific knife cuts.
School nutrition programs are doing an incredible job and making improvements every day. As a registered dietitian and chef working with school nutrition programs I have seen amazing work in schools around the Pacific Northwest. Schools menus now feature more delicious, from-scratch meals full of nutrient-rich foods. School nutrition program directors and cooks are passionate about serving nourishing meals and are enthusiastic about making changes. Their tremendous efforts for positive change should be recognized.
My experience at the White House and in the Champions of Change round table meeting was incredibly inspiring. There is a great deal of work ahead of us, however positive changes to school meals are happening every day. I am encouraged by the work of my colleagues at the table, and the enthusiasm of 2,500 chefs and 2,300 schools around the nation who have volunteered to participate in Chefs Move to Schools.
Garrett Berdan is an independent nutrition and culinary educator and consultant specializing in school district child nutrition programs.