Improving the Quality of School Lunches
When I began volunteering at Sequoia Academy, a new private school of about a dozen students, in Janesville, a medium-sized working class city in southern Wisconsin, I never imagined that I would end up as a lunch lady. The school has multiple grades in one classroom with an emphasis on environmental education; the children spend time outdoors almost every day. The kids take field trips to local farms and participate in nature based community service activities.
I especially like the fact that Sequoia Academy is a very practical school with a curriculum that allows each student to work at his or her own pace, and where children are able to learn hands-on life skills. It all started when I volunteered to lead environmental education activities with the kids once a week. I would often arrange food-related activities because, in my mind, food and environmental education are inseparable.
In working with the kids and talking to the parents, I began to learn that food intolerances, food aversions and decaying teeth were common in the group. Many parents expressed frustration with these developments, because they were trying to feed their children healthy foods. Unfortunately they were giving them hard-to-digest foods like raw spinach, granola, whole grain cold cereals, soy milk, rice milk, and other darlings of the natural foods movement.
The kids with the known food intolerances and tooth decay were probably eating more fruits, vegetables and “natural foods” than those who were eating a more standard American diet. Between the food intolerances and the antinutrients in the grains and soy, it is no wonder that they were showing signs of mineral deficiencies, such as cavities. I just looked around at the lovable kids and thought, “These kids need some nourishing traditional foods!”
It didn’t take long for me to establish a reputation with the school administrators and parents as a good cook and to gain their trust in the important job of nourishing their children. I started by directing the food-related environmental education activities with the kids. We made soaked oatmeal cookies and yogurt dough crackers. These were a big hit with both children and parents. We even made home-made sauerkraut. I also made sure to bring properly prepared nourishing treats to PTA meetings whenever I had the time. When I started the Janesville Chapter of the Weston A. Price Foundation, I held my first two meetings at the school. I invited parents to come to the meetings and offered food samples and recipes. I found that most if not all parents were very open to the principles of nourishing traditional diets. The parents of children with food allergies were especially interested in my gluten-free and casein-free recipes.
When I phoned the director of the school and told her that I felt inspired to cook for the kids at least one day a week, she was happy to let me help out. The lead teacher was already overextended. Having someone in the kitchen, even one day a week, would be a big help. That is how it all started. Soon I was cooking once a week, planning the meals and doing the shopping. I would write up recipes that the teacher could prepare in my absence and make sure that the cupboards were stocked with plenty of healthy ingredients. It was not long before cooking once a week turned into cooking twice a week. Cooking twice a week eventually turned into a part time job planning the menus and cooking nearly every day. I have recently gone back to one day a week of cooking and planning the menus. Fortunately, the school was able to find a parent volunteer who is willing to cook several days a week.
Designing a Meal Plan
About one fourth of the children at Sequoia have a known food allergy or intolerance. To plan meals for them, I had to read up on food allergies. I was already somewhat familiar with label reading for food allergens, having a husband who avoids gluten, casein and peanuts. Unfortunately, many of the gluten-free and dairy-free processed foods that are marketed to people with food allergies are high in starches and sugars and low in nutritional value. I didn’t want to just avoid feeding allergens to these children. I wanted to help them resolve mineral deficiencies and overcome their allergies. At the very least, I wanted to feed them nutrient-dense foods that would not cause them harm.
I had learned from my research that soaking and sprouting grains, nuts and legumes could help minimize food allergies.1 I also learned that a lack of beneficial bacteria in the intestines causes proteins and starches that have not been completely digested to leak through the gut wall and provoke immune reactions.2 While I knew that my two meals a day would not be enough to heal the children with these issues, I resolved to do the best I could to give them foods that would not exacerbate their problems. I also decided that feeding soaked or sprouted grains, nuts and legumes would be beneficial for all of the children. Traditional cultures knew that it was important to use soaking, sprouting and sour leavening to prepare grains and seeds. We now know that phytic acid in un-soaked whole grains contributes to mineral deficiencies.3 Other components in foods, such as the oxalic acid found in raw spinach and chard, can also rob our children of calcium.4 I make a point of always cooking these foods and offering them in small amounts.
The good news is that bone broth can provide some of the minerals children need. It has the added benefit of gelatin, which soothes their young tummies.5 I make every effort to use broth in my cooking whenever possible. I get praise from the school staff members on my delicious sauces and gravies. When they want to know what spices I use, I have to admit I only use only good broth and sea salt.
When it comes to fats, my research has shown that children, especially those with food allergies, benefit from avoiding processed vegetable oils, which are almost always rancid from processing.6 In fact, saturated fats, which are less likely to become rancid from normal cooking, can play a valuable role in children’s diets. They contain many important vitamins and are a terrific source of energy and nourishment. Coconut oil is especially beneficial with its high content of lauric acid, which is both anti-viral and anti-bacterial.7 Since the children are constantly exposed to illnesses in school, coconut oil seems like a good choice.
Organic butter from grass fed cows is another one of my favorite healthy fats. It is rich in the fat soluble vitamins A, D, K and E with all of the cofactors necessary for proper assimilation of these nutrients.8 I use clarified butter if I am cooking for children with dairy allergies who do not tolerate the small amount of lactose or casein found in whole butter. Be aware that some children still react to clarified butter. Lard, tallow, and goose fat are all good alternatives. These traditional animal fats contain a combination of saturated fatty acids, monounsaturated fatty acids and polyunsaturated fatty acids. They are also rich in vitamins and other beneficial compounds, including the nutrients that we need to properly digest and assimilate the protein in meat. Native Americans and other traditional cultures knew that if they ate their meat without its fat, they would get sick. Clinical studies have confirmed the wisdom in this rule.9 Since Sequoia Academy puts an emphasis on providing protein in all of its meals, this information is especially pertinent. To provide a variety of good fats, I also use cold pressed extra virgin olive oil and a small amount of cold pressed flax oil in hummus, mayonnaise and salad dressing.
Because the school is new and is still held in the founder’s house, it follows the WECA (Wisconsin Early Childhood Association) requirements for meals and snacks. WECA is a program that reimburses daycare providers for healthy meals served to children in their homes as long as those meals meet certain requirements. We have to serve a grain at every breakfast and lunch. We are also required to serve pasteurized milk to every child who is not allergic. We easily meet the other requirements for fruits, vegetables and protein. The WECA program allows the use of certain prepared foods from a master list. The list of allowable foods includes mostly brand names like Tyson and Sysco. If you want to avoid the MSG, trans fats, high fructose corn syrup and other additives found in these prepared foods, you have to make your meals from scratch. For me, this was not a problem.
With WECA providing the framework for menu planning and the Weston A. Price Foundation informing my choices of foods, I have been able to plan some pretty good weekly menus. To make it sustainable in my absence, I created a “Kitchen Manual” in a three-ring binder. The manual includes recipes, kitchen regulations, Sequoia’s meal policy, information about food allergies and menus. In the shopping section, I put information about pesticide residues in foods and a list of which fruits and vegetables should always be organic (the dirty dozen). In the training section, I included articles from previous issues of Wise Traditions and nutritional information from multiple sources on the benefits of organic butter and other saturated fats for children. I also included information about anti-nutrients in foods and the benefits of soaking whole grains and nuts. I tucked a Weston A. Price Foundation brochure and 2008 Shopping Guide into the front pocket of the binder. I tried to include enough information to help any kitchen volunteers understand why we shop and cook the way we do.
No Accounting For Tastes
I learned right away that you can prepare the most nutrient-dense (and even delicious) foods in the world for kids and they will still end up in the garbage if the kids don’t recognize them. I continue to be surprised by the foods that kids will and won’t taste. Some foods that I was surprised to see rejected were individual chicken pot pies, chicken noodle soup, chicken salad sandwiches and beef stew. Baked chicken in any form has never been as popular as chicken nuggets. Fortunately, baked skin-on chicken nuggets are not difficult to prepare with a good pair of kitchen scissors and some wheat free bread crumbs or corn bread crumbs. Fish sticks can be made in a similar way. One girl informed me that she doesn’t like chicken without ranch dressing. I discovered that it is easy to make a suitable ranch dressing from yogurt and mayonnaise. Both the Wisconsin Health Codes and the USDA school lunch program stipulate that yogurt must be purchased rather than homemade.10 I get the best organic, whole milk yogurt I can find. Kids who are allergic to milk get either mustard or ketchup, both of which can be enhanced with sauerkraut juice to make a pro-biotic dip. I make large batches of homemade ketchup and freeze it in small containers to keep it within the safety guidelines for group child care kitchens.11
I have found that many students will eat the “plain cheese” pizza in which the meat and vegetables are all pureed into the sauce, but they will not touch pizza that has anything on top of the cheese. One girl recognized the spaghetti sauce on her pizza and named it spaghetti pizza. It was a hit!
Of course, every group of children has its picky eaters and it is impossible to please everyone all of the time. I have learned to strive for the least wasting of food. Sometimes this means that I am spending more time in the preparation than I would normally spend when I cook at home. Appearance is important. Clever names for the foods are also helpful. Dinosaur eggs were a popular treat, though somewhat time consuming, made by wrapping hard boiled duck eggs in ground meat sausage and baking them in the oven. Our green eggs and ham are made with plenty of butter, kale and nitrate-free ham rather than the artificially colored and commercial animal products that the public schools use when they celebrate the birthday of Dr. Seuss. I have also found that most foods that are normally fried can be baked instead. Kids love “chips” made from pita bread or corn tortillas brushed in coconut oil or lard and baked. French “fries” can be made the same way.
The Grain Challenge
Brown rice pasta is a necessity in cooking for the kids with food allergies. It can be cooked in broth to enhance the nutrition. The kids never even suspect that they are eating brown rice or broth. In fact, I found that kids will eat most whole grains if they are in a familiar form. Muffins, pancakes, and breads always go over better than porridge or plain cooked whole grains. Soaking the grains ahead of time allows these foods to be prepared in a timely manner with maximum assimilation of nutrients. It also makes the whole grains appear more like white flour in the finished product.
For Sequoia, I chose to do a rotation of whole grains, soaked whenever it was feasible. Without a grain mill, I am somewhat limited in my ability to make breads. I am further limited by wheat and gluten allergies in a few of the children. I have found that pancakes are an easy way to serve whole grains, even some of the less familiar, gluten-free grains. I have also found that the kids want to eat things like “peanut butter and jelly pancakes” even when they are actually made with almond butter and all-fruit jam. If I had called them “amaranth pancakes with crispy nut butter,” I’m sure that many of the kids wouldn’t have been so eager to taste them.
When I don’t have the time to make pancakes or soaked “quick” breads, I rely on sprouted wheat tortillas and sprouted corn tortillas. My greatest disappointment is that I can’t find properly prepared gluten-free bread with acceptable ingredients. As with any situation, I do the best that I can within my limitations of time and resources. I try to plan menus that minimize the use of bread, and when necessary I use the best gluten-free bread I can find. I did recently find a source for sprouted wheat, soaked granola and crispy nuts made locally in a commercial kitchen. These foods will be a helpful addition to our meal program.
The daily kitchen staff (either myself or a parent volunteer) typically spends four to five hours preparing, serving and cleaning up after meals. There is usually enough prep time between breakfast and lunch to get everything ready for the next day. I recently began distributing the menu to parents. I provide a glossary of terms rather than a preparation list. I try to define any unfamiliar words, such as quinoa, teff or hummus, and I add interesting facts about the foods from some of my favorite cookbooks.
Sausage was such a popular breakfast item that I had to find a practical way to make it in the morning. Rather than buying expensive pre-made sausages with questionable ingredients, I found a way to make our own. I used the Nourishing Traditions recipe for turkey breakfast sausages12 to come up with a spice mix that I could make in large batches and add to ground meats as I cooked them. All I have to do is put whatever kind of meat I want in the fridge to defrost for the following day. The next morning, I just mix in two teaspoons of the sausage spice mixture and a generous teaspoon of sea salt per pound of ground meat. I am conservative with the spices because young kids seem to prefer just a hint of sausage flavor. For ground chicken or turkey, I always add some fat to the meat. Lard and coconut oil both work well. I originally made the ground meat into little sausage patties. After a while, I switched to just browning and chopping the meat into crumbles because the younger kids prefer their sausages cut up anyway. Ground meats can also be enhanced with a portion of ground heart or liver, rather than the soy protein that is popular in many public school lunches. I like to make a large batch of spaghetti sauce on Monday, using a ratio of three pounds of ground beef to one pound of ground liver. The food processor is especially helpful for kids who don’t like the texture of meat. I immediately freeze the extra sauce to use on pizzas later in the week. Pizza can be as simple as tomato meat sauce spread on a brown rice or sprouted grain tortilla and sprinkled with organic cheese or goat cheese.
Partnerships With Local Farms
One fabulous thing about Sequoia Academy is that it has been working with local farms from the beginning. Two different CSA memberships provide a variety of vegetables. Other local farmers sell us eggs, duck eggs, grass-fed beef, chicken, pork, lamb, goat cheese, lard and organ meats, often at a discount. We are currently in the process of obtaining a supply of ground organ meats along with frozen hamburger from one of our favorite farms. We are required to use pasteurized dairy products, though some parents choose to have their children bring their own raw milk in labeled containers.
Many studies have shown the benefits in letting children grow their own food and spend time in the garden. Since Sequoia is still small and still looking for a permanent location, it was not practical to plant our own garden this year. Fortunately, our close relationship with one of our CSA farms turned into several field trip opportunities. In early spring the kids visited the farm to see how maple syrup is made. They also got to gather their own eggs and see young carrots and turnips coming up in the hoop house. Later in the summer, they had a blast chasing guinea fowl through the gardens and eating pea pods right off the plants. I joined them in eating the fresh pea pods. The stomach ache I had the following day made me vow to put more steamed vegetables on the menu instead of raw. When I served steamed kohlrabi the following week, I reminded the kids that kohlrabi was the plant we saw at Wright Way Farm the previous week that looked like little baseballs with stems. They loved it!
The CSA memberships provided their challenges as well. Early spring began with lettuce, lettuce and more lettuce. No matter how creative you are in cooking, you can really only get the kids to eat a small amount of lettuce. I ended up encouraging large salads for the adults at the school and giving the kids small amounts in their sandwiches and salads. After one student gagged on a piece of steamed kale, I vowed to always chop the greens in the food processor. The chopped greens are great in pizza, eggs and even burgers. Other than lettuce and unprocessed greens, I have found that most kids over the age of four are willing to taste most vegetables and even enjoy them. Once again, home-made “ranch” dressing, hummus, and mustard dips are helpful companions, even to steamed vegetables.
Partnerships with other local farms have been priceless for the school, especially when dealing with food intolerances. For example, we are able to get local duck eggs for kids who are allergic to chicken eggs and goat cheese for kids who are allergic to cow’s milk. We are also able to buy lovely golden lard from pigs that eat a natural diet free of soy. Another farm sells us large stewing hens for a very reasonable price and gives us a discount on bulk orders of grass-fed hamburger.
As the school grows and moves to its new location, we will no longer be on the WECA program. Instead we will be using the USDA national school lunch program. In looking ahead, I see that many of the USDA beliefs and values are compatible with our present system of nutrient dense local foods. They discourage the use and sales of FMNV (Foods of Minimal Nutritional Value), though these foods include mostly candy and soft drinks.13 I would like to expand the list to include refined flour and processed vegetable oil. They do recommend meeting the nutritional requirements through the use of whole foods rather than highly fortified foods. Though they add that, “This research is still in its early stages and there is much to be learned.”14
The USDA encourages partnerships with local produce farms in order to encourage vegetable consumption.15 Unfortunately, it makes no mention of local meat or egg farmers. We are concerned that at some point in the near future the USDA will include a rule that schools can only buy meat from farms who register their animals with NAIS. If that happens, we may have to choose between participating in the national school lunch program and opting out of the program in favor of supporting our local farms. The small reimbursement we can get for meals served under the program just might not be worth it.
To be eligible for the national school lunch program, schools are required to submit menu plans that meet the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. These guidelines, which have been heavily influenced by the processed food industries, stipulate that the meals can have no more than thirty percent of calories from fat and less than ten percent from saturated fat. Fortunately, the menus can be averaged out over the course of an entire week. I am curious to see how my menus will compare. I can only guess that the wide variety of vegetables and whole grains will contribute to helping keep the total fat within its required limits. Our once-a-week use of nut butters and nuts instead of meats will help keep the saturated fats low, but most likely not as low as is required.
We are limited in our use of legumes because of food allergies. I am looking for ways to get around the low saturated fat requirement without resorting to nonfat milk and cheese substitutes. Perhaps we can offer butter and clarified butter at the table without including it on our menu? Another option might be to offer one lunch a week that is based on well-soaked and well-cooked beans or lentils. We can offer a substitution of meat for children with allergies.
The USDA is now requiring schools to offer more than one choice in fat content for milk, with an emphasis on lowfat and nonfat milk. Schools are even encouraged to offer “flavored” milk.16 Some of the children at Sequoia already like to add water to their whole milk. I am guessing this impulse comes from drinking reduced-fat milk at home. I would rather have them drink watered down milk than serve them reduced-fat milk with its extra burden of nitrates and oxidized cholesterol from the nonfat dry milk that is added as part of the industry standards.17 The dry milk also increases the protein content of the milk. Remember that consuming protein without fat is not a good idea for anyone.
We are definitely going to just say no to the irradiated meat that is offered as one of the USDA commodities.18 The USDA also adds textured vegetable protein made from defatted soy flour19 to some of its ground beef in order to reduce the cost and fat content of the meat. While the high pressure and heat of the extrusion process used to produce TVP may reduce the mineral blocking phytic acid and other anti-nutrients, it also alters the structure of the proteins.20 We are off the hook for adding the extruded soy protein to our meat due to known soy allergies. (In fact, we are seriously considering making our new kitchen both soy- and peanut-free.) Instead, we have been adding nutrient-rich organ meats to our hamburger. I was relieved to find that organ meats are in the USDA database of acceptable foods.21 I am guessing that we are the only school in our area that uses them on a regular basis.
The USDA tracks the protein, calcium, iron, vitamin A, and vitamin C in the menus and assumes that the other necessary nutrients will accompany these important five.22 I am not worried about meeting the recommendations for any of these nutrients with our current focus on providing a wide variety of foods for our students. My biggest concern is the low saturated fat requirement.
According to the USDA guidelines, substitutions made for children with food allergies don’t have to be included in the nutritional analysis. To me this means that the children with allergies could get meat (even fatty meat) instead of dairy products and legumes. I think the original intent, however, was to allow schools to offer rice milk and soy milk. I have already taught one of the Sequoia mothers to make coconut milk tonic for her son. Hopefully parents who want to provide good alternatives to pasteurized milk, such as raw goat milk and coconut milk tonic, will still be able to do so.
The USDA website boasts of its “improvements” in reducing the saturated fats in the National School Lunch Program. While researching the program, I noticed that it was only within the last year that shortening was taken out of the commodity program, while butter was removed back in 1997.
If they are not using butter and avoiding trans fats, I can only guess that they are using plenty of processed vegetable oils. My hunch is confirmed when I notice vegetable oil available by the gallon on the list of commodities. I find it ironic that these liquid vegetable oils do actually contain trans fats from the refining and deodorizing processes. Will Sequoia Academy’s use of (largely monounsaturated) lard help keep its saturated fat content within the ten percent limit? Can we write low fat recipes but use a generous hand in enriching the meals that we serve with plenty of real butter or coconut oil?
As I was training our new volunteer cook, I commented to her that I go easy on the butter for the kids while I proceeded to add half a cup of clarified butter to the pan of oatmeal (16 servings). She laughed at me until I explained that at home I normally add about half a stick of butter to my own personal bowl of oatmeal and eat it in one sitting. Because she had bought into the idea that fat makes you fat, she was amazed that I am so thin. The USDA database lists butter alongside margarine and suggests 1.1 pound of butter per 100 servings. If you do the math, you will find that I really added only slightly more than the recommended amount to the oatmeal. Of course, we served the oatmeal with sausage and whole milk.
As I write this article, our school is getting ready for its expansion and its participation in the National School Lunch Program. Soon I will receive training in menu planning and nutrition from the USDA. I’m sure it will be both interesting and frustrating. The website for the National School Lunch Program has an incredible amount of resources. Unfortunately the lowfat dogma is found throughout the entire website. I notice that there is even a link to a vegan recipe website from the vegetarian resource group. I have to wonder whether we will ever see a link to the Weston A. Price Foundation website. The thought makes me want to start converting recipes in the hopes of making a database of traditional food recipes for institutional use.
I look forward to being able to write more in the future about the Sequoia Academy lunch program and the recipes that I create to be able to properly nourish our children while complying with the USDA’s standards. I also look forward to working for positive change for all schools. Let’s all work to get soy protein out of our school lunches and get the saturated fat back in! My hope is that the children at Sequoia and my own daughter will not have to suffer the health problems associated with a lowfat diet, too much soy, and too many poorly prepared whole grains.
Most of the following recipes are designed to feed thirty elementary school students and three or four teachers in a family style setting. The meat main dish recipes meet the protein requirements of the USDA guidelines. The fat content will depend on the type of meat used and how “generous” you are when preparing the meals. The serving size for meat is one ounce of cooked meat. Children over the age of ten are supposed to receive one and a half ounces of meat or equivalent. Recipes will have to be adjusted slightly if you are cooking for students in the older age group.
My own experience suggests that kids will eat the right amount of calories for their needs if they are offered a variety of nourishing foods that they enjoy. We do put limits on sweets and fruit because they will consume those foods in excess. We also made a rule that the children have to eat most of their food before getting seconds on any one item. Each school will have to figure out what works best for their own situation, keeping in mind that children learn best from example.
- Pitchford, Paul. Healing with Whole Foods, Berkeley, CA: North Atlantic Books, 2002, pp.272-3.
- Campbell-McBride, Natasha MD. Gut and Psychology Syndrome, UK: Cambridge Printing, 2004.
- Fallon, Sally and Mary Enig, Ph.D. Nourishing Traditions, Washington, DC: New Trends, pp. 452-3.
- Pitchford, pp. 224-5.
- Fallon, pp. 116-8.
- Pitchford, pp.297-8.
- Campbell-McBride, pp. 183-6.
- Fallon, pp. 15-17.
- Campbell-McBride, pp. 183-5
- http://teamnutrition.usda.gov/Resources/FBG_Section_1-MeatAlternates.pdf, Food Buying Guide for Child Nutrition Programs, Section 1.
- Wisconsin Administrative Code, Section 46.06(9) Kitchens.
- Fallon, Sally. Nourishing Traditions. New Trends Publishing, 2000, pp. 363-4.
- http://www.fns.usda.gov/cnd/menu/fmnv.htm, School Meals, Foods of Minimal Nutritional Value 14.http://www.fns.usda.gov/tn/resources/NAP2.pdf Key Nutrient Analysis Concepts, pp. 30-31.
- http://www.fns.usda.gov/cnd/Lunch/Downloadable/small.pdf, Small Farms/ School Meals Initiative.
- http://www.fns.usda.gov/cnd/Governance/regulations/Reauthorization_ 04/2004-12-8.pdf, Rules and Regulations, Federal Register, Vol. 69, No. 235, Wednesday, December 8, 2004.
- Schmid, Ron, ND. The Untold Story of Milk, Washington, DC: New Trends, 2003, pp. 228-9
- http://www.fns.usda.gov/cga/PressReleases/2003/irradiation-qas.htm, Newsroom, Press Release, Why will USDA be offering irradiated beef for distribution in the National School Lunch Program?
- Daniel, Kaayla, PhD, CCN. The Whole Soy Story, Washington, DC: New Trends, 2005, pp. 89-90.
- Daniel, pp. 89-90.
- http://teamnutrition.usda.gov/Resources/FBG_Section_1-MeatAlternates. pdf, Food Buying Guide for Child Nutrition Programs, Section 1.
- http://www.fns.usda.gov/tn/resources/NAP1.pdf, Nutrient Standards, Chapter 1.
- http://www.fns.usda.gov/tn/resources/NAP2.pdf Key Nutrient Analysis Concepts, pp. 30-31.
- http://www.fns.usda.gov/fdd/foods/SY09-schfoods.pdf, USDA Foods Available for School Year 2009.
- http://teamnutrition.usda.gov/Resources/FBG_Section_5-OtherFoods. pdf, Food Buying Guide for Child Nutrition Programs, Section 5.
- http://www.fns.usda.gov/cnd/, USDA Food and Nutrition Service.
Here is a sample weekly menu. Sequoia Academy offers breakfast and lunch every day with an emphasis on providing high quality protein at every meal. We also provide a snack, which I have not included on this menu. Snacks can be a great opportunity to make use of leftovers.
Scrambled Duck Eggs
Sweet Potato Millet Muffins
French Toast made
with Duck Eggs
Berries or Bananas
Brown Rice Pasta
cooked in Beef Broth
Tomato Meat Sauce
Steamed Green Beans
Lettuce Salad with
Ranch or Honey
Fish Burgers with
Cream and Chives
Gluten Free Corn Bread
Grated Vegetable Salad
Steamed Green Beans
Tomato Meat Sauce
Fresh Vegetable Sticks
with Ranch Dressing
or Honey Mustard
Steamed Pea Pods
and Jelly Sandwiches
Carrot and Celery Sticks
Navy Bean Hummus
Make extra tomato sauce
and freeze for Thursday.
Soak cornmeal and
rice flour for corn bread.
Soak millet and
buckwheat for muffins.
Defrost ground turkey.
Defrost tomato sauce.
Make extra ranch dressing.
Soak navy beans.
Cook navy beans (start early).
Wash and cut extra
veggies for tomorrow.
No kitchen staff.
Field trip day.
Making It Affordable
It is important for schools to make nutrition a priority. Well-nourished children are better able to pay attention and learn. Still, it is sometimes difficult for parents and school administrators to understand why we might want to pay more for high quality food. More than that, both public and private schools are notoriously underfunded. Here are some ways to help pay for your school’s healthy meal program:
- Work closely with local farmers. Local farmers understand that when they support a school, everyone benefits. Sequoia promotes our favorite farms to the parents and families we serve. We even have an agreement with a local CSA that they will donate $75 of every full share that is purchased as a result of our referrals. The CSA makes a weekly delivery right to the school, making it easy for families to pick up their vegetables at the same time they are picking up their kids. Some day when our school has older children, we will offer work study opportunities that allow the children to help out at the farms with various chores.
- Purchase items that you can safely store in bulk. This includes whole grains, frozen meat, sprouted tortillas, crackers and canned coconut milk. Talk with your local natural food store or co-op about getting a discount for the school.
- Minimize junk. Processed organic foods, such as boxed macaroni and cheese, frozen pizza and cold cereal are even more expensive than their conventional counterparts. They offer little nutritional value for their cost.
- Some natural food companies offer coupons and even donations for schools using their products. Check out their websites or write to some of your favorite companies and ask. Local bakeries and other businesses may also offer support in the form of money or food.
- Buy extra produce during the summer and freeze it. Berries are especially easy to freeze. Wash them and spread them out on a baking sheet. Freeze the berries on the baking sheet before transferring them to plastic freezer bags.
- Consider offering meals to teachers and staff for a donation or fee. We offer our delicious meals to our staff and volunteers in exchange for a donation to our meal fund. As an added benefit, this program encourages the teachers to eat with their students and set a good example at the table.
- You can purchase some organic fair trade coffee and make a fresh pot every morning. Parents and teachers can choose to drink the school coffee (nicknamed Our-Bucks) and donate to the school the money they would have spent at a nearby coffee chain. You could also offer muffins and other treats to accompany the coffee. Parents may even be willing to donate baked goods for the cause. It’s like having a bake sale every day!
- Publish a cookbook and sell it to help fund the meal program. You can even include healthy cooking advice in your book. There are websites to help you create and publish your cookbook, such as www.cookbookco.com and www. thesecretingredients.com
- Have a local dinner benefit for your school. Check out the Organic Valley Earth Dinner website http://www.earthdinner. org/ or just plan your own. Local farms may even donate food or silent auction items for the cause.
Winning Recipes From The Lunch Lady At Sequoia Academy
DUCK EGG MAYONNAISE
I developed this recipe in order to have a cooked egg mayonnaise that would be suitable for kids who are allergic to chicken eggs but can have duck eggs.
4 large duck eggs
1 teaspoon prepared mustard
3 – 4 tablespoons apple cider vinegar or rice vinegar
3/4 – 1 cup olive oil
Salt to taste
Place the duck eggs in a pan with water to cover it by one inch. Bring to a gentle boil and allow eggs to boil for about five minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and run cold water into the pan to cool the eggs. Optional: Place the eggs in the freezer for ten minutes. This will allow you to peel them more easily. Peel the eggs. The whites should be firm and the yolks still a bit soft. Process the eggs in your food processor with the mustard and vinegar. Add the oil slowly while the processor is running. Salt the mayonnaise to taste and use for your favorite sandwich or dressing.
I had to create a Ranch dressing recipe by request. This one is a great pro-biotic complement to salad, chicken fingers, vegetables and more! For kids who are allergic to chicken eggs and cow milk but can have duck eggs and goat milk, you can use goat milk yogurt and duck egg mayonnaise.
1 pint whole milk yogurt
1 cup high-quality mayonnaise or home-made mayonnaise
3 tablespoons finely snipped fresh chives
1 tablespoon fresh parsley or 2 tablespoons dried parsley
1/4 teaspoon chili powder
Salt to taste
Mix all of the ingredients and beat with a fork until it is smooth and creamy.
2 pounds carrots, grated
1 large apple, grated
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon flax oil
Juice of one lemon
1/2 cup crispy sunflower seeds
Mix together the carrots, apple, oil and lemon juice. Sprinkle on the sunflower seeds just before serving.
SKIN-ON CHICKEN NUGGETS
Leaving the skin on the chicken makes these nuggets especially juicy. The skin seems to melt into the crispy coating, making them seem like fast-food chicken nuggets, though they are much better. I use the squash purée as a substitute for the eggs when cooking for kids with egg allergies. I have also had good results with melted coconut oil or a mixture of squash and coconut oil.
10 pounds of chicken pieces with bones and skin, such as thighs or breasts
6 tablespoons arrowroot starch
5 eggs, beaten or 1 1/2 cup of carrot or squash purée
6 cups bread crumbs or corn bread crumbs
2 teaspoons salt
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Cut the chicken away from the bones and into small nuggets or strips, leaving the skin on as much as possible. Kitchen scissors make quick work of cutting up the chicken. (Make sure you toss your bones into your stockpot or freeze them to make stock another day.) Mix the bread crumbs and salt. Make a plate of arrowroot starch, a bowl of egg or squash and a plate of bread crumbs. Roll the chicken pieces in the arrowroot and shake off excess. Follow with beaten egg or squash and then the breadcrumbs. Place the nuggets on an ungreased baking sheet (with edges) or in a large baking dish. Bake the chicken for 45 minutes to one hour, turning once.
I was worried that the kids wouldn’t eat these “burgers” because they are green and fishy. They turned out to be one of our most popular main dishes. They are especially good with home-made Ranch dressing or just simple sour cream and chives (for those who can tolerate dairy). The puréed fish bones provide much-needed calcium to children who are allergic to milk.
4 cans (14 3/4 oz) wild Alaskan salmon with bones
8 medium potatoes, steamed and mashed
3 tablespoons snipped fresh chives
2 handfuls fresh spinach or kale leaves
3 tablespoons gelatin dissolved in 3 tablespoons hot water (or 3 large eggs)
4 cups gluten-free bread crumbs or corn bread crumbs
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
Process the fish with the bones in batches in the food processor. Process the greens and chives until finely chopped. Mix together all of the ingredients and form into small burgers. Grease a large cast iron griddle with lard or ghee and cook the burgers until golden. You may also form the mixture into a few loaves and bake it in greased loaf pans in the oven, but kids really seem to prefer the burgers. They are worth the extra time spent preparing them.
I served this to the kids with some fresh avocado and corn bread based on the recipe in Nourishing Traditions, page 486. It is also good over brown rice pasta. The ground heart is optional, but it adds some vitamins and coenzyme Q10.
3 pounds ground beef or venison
1/2 – 1 pound ground beef heart
1 medium onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, crushed
3-4 pinches crushed red pepper
1 tablespoon salt (or slightly less)
1 1/2 tablespoons paprika
1 teaspoon black pepper
3 tablespoons chili powder
1 tablespoon cumin, powder or seed
2 1/2 cups home-made beef stock or water
You can grind the heart yourself in a food processor or use ground mixed organs from a local farm. Brown the hamburger and heart with the onion in a heavy soup pot, chopping it up finely with your spoon. Add the garlic and cook for a few minutes. Add the spices and cook, stirring for one minute. Add the beef stock and simmer for two hours or cook in a crock pot. You may also add beans.
SAUSAGE SPICE MIX
Adapted from the Nourishing Traditions recipe for Turkey Breakfast Sausage, pages 363-4.
1/4 cup each cumin, marjoram, pepper, nutmeg, oregano, and ginger
1/2 cup each dried basil, thyme, sage
Mix the spices together by putting everything into a quart jar and shaking it vigorously. Add 2-3 teaspoons of the spice mix and 1-2 teaspoons of sea salt per pound of ground meat. You can also mix in a small amount of ground organ meats if desired. Form the mixture into patties or just chop it up and brown it in a cast iron skillet.
4 tablespoons olive oil
4 tablespoons coconut oil
2 large onions, chopped
6 – 8 carrots, shredded or chopped
6 cloves garlic, crushed (optional)
1 cup spinach or kale leaves
4 24-ounce jars strained tomatoes
2 7-ounce jars tomato paste
3 tablespoons oregano
3 tablespoons basil
Salt to taste
2 pounds pork sausage or leftover home-made sausage
15 flatbreads or tortillas (sprouted grain or brown rice)
4 pounds shredded cheese or goat cheese
Gently heat the oils in a saucepan and add the onion and carrots. Cook, stirring, until the onion is translucent. Stir in the garlic and spinach and cook for one minute more, just until the spinach is wilted. Add the remaining ingredients except the sausage, tortillas and cheese. Transfer the mixture to a food processor and purée in batches until smooth. Return the puréed sauce to the pan and cook gently to allow the flavors to meld. Purée the meat in the food processor and stir it into the sauce. Lay out your flatbreads on baking sheets. Top each one with sauce and then cheese. Bake in a 350˚ oven for about fifteen minutes until the cheese is melted and bubbly. Allow to cool slightly before slicing and serving. Serves 30.
This is a very simple meal that is better than the food served in most Chinese restaurants because it relies on old fashioned stock rather than MSG to get that robust flavor. I used sea salt, but you could also use natural soy sauce if your students are not allergic to soy. You can also substitute beef and beef stock in place of the chicken or use pork for a very traditional Chinese meal. For young kids who don’t like their food mixed together, you can serve the meat on the side rather than incorporating it into the stir fry. We steam and serve the pea pods on the side as well because some kids are allergic to peas.
4 cups brown rice
7 1/2 cups chicken stock or a combination of stock and water
Rinse the rice and place it in a deep saucepan with the stock. Bring it to a boil and skim off any foam that comes to the top. Reduce the heat to the lowest possible. Cover the pan and allow the rice to simmer for two hours until all the liquid is soaked up and the rice is soft.
6 tablespoons chicken fat, coconut oil, olive oil or lard
3 onions, chopped
8 carrots, chopped
6 stalks celery, chopped
Other fresh vegetables (pea pods, bok choy, cabbage, etc.)
Meat from 4-5 cooked chickens (left over from making stock), chopped
4 cups chicken stock
8 tablespoons arrowroot powder
1 tablespoon sea salt or to taste
Heat the fat or oil in a heavy pan. Add the onion and carrots and stir fry until the onion is beginning to become soft and translucent. Add the celery and other vegetables and the stock. Put the lid on the pan and steam for about 2-3 minutes until the vegetables are beginning to get tender but are still brightly colored. Add the chicken. Dissolve the arrowroot in about 1/4 cup water. Add this paste to the cooking vegetables and heat everything just until the sauce is thickened. Season it to taste with salt (or soy sauce) and serve with the rice.
Better than Hamburger Helper
This is a very easy and satisfying casserole. You may want to serve the meat and vegetables separately if you are feeding very young children who don’t like their food mixed together
1 gallon beef stock
4 – 12 ounce packages brown rice pasta (Tinkyada is a good brand)
4 pounds ground beef (or a mixture of ground beef and ground organ meats)
1 tablespoon salt
4 onions, finely chopped
6 – 8 carrots, peeled and sliced small
3 – 4 heads of broccoli or cauliflower
Additional vegetables may be added or substituted, as desired
Clarified butter or beef fat, if desired
Bring the stock to a boil in a large soup pot. Stir in the pasta and return to a gentle boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer, place the lid on the pot, and simmer for about fifteen minutes, stirring occasionally. While the pasta is cooking, brown the ground beef with the onions until it is cooked through and the onions are translucent. Steam the vegetables on the side until tender or add them to the cooking pasta. When the pasta and vegetables are tender, mix everything together and stir in the butter or fat. It is also good with two cups of puréed squash or carrots added to make it more “cheesy.”
GLUTEN-FREE, CASEIN-FREE Millet Sweet Potato Muffins
This recipe makes 12 muffins or 24 mini muffins. It is a smaller recipe than the others because it has to be made in a blender. You can double the recipe, but you will have to process it in batches. You could use this recipe to make a batch of muffins for the kids with food allergies and make soaked spelt muffins for the other students.
1 cup whole millet
1 cup whole, unroasted buckwheat
3 cups warm water
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar or brown rice vinegar
Mix together the grains, vinegar, and water and soak overnight.
2 medium sweet potatoes, steamed, chopped and peeled
4 tablespoons coconut oil, melted
2 tablespoons honey
1 tablespoon molasses or sorghum syrup
1/3 – 2/3 cup water (just enough to make it blend freely)
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ginger
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 cup raisins, optional
Preheat the oven to 325.˚ Line 12 muffin cups with unbleached liners (or grease them with lard). Place the chopped sweet potatoes in the bottom of your blender. Drain and rinse the millet and buckwheat. Add the rinsed grains to the blender with the remaining ingredients, except the raisins. Blend the mixture until it is smooth, stopping periodically to scrape down the sides. A high speed blender with a “tamper” works really well for this recipe. Otherwise, you might have to add a little bit more water to get it to blend properly. Stir in the raisins. If the batter is very liquid, you may want to stir in a quarter cup of coconut flour. Divide the batter between the muffin cups and bake until they bounce back to your touch, about 20 – 25 minutes.
GLUTEN-FREE, CASEIN-FREE Hazelnut Animal Crackers
I made these for an after-school enrichment activity. The kids enjoyed rolling and cutting out the cookies. They can also decorate them with shredded coconut, nuts, and dried fruit. If making them to serve as a snack, you can just cut them into squares with a knife. They make great gluten-free graham crackers.
1/2 cup crispy hazelnuts or sunflower seeds
1/2 cup coconut flour
1/2 cup masa corn meal or sprouted buckwheat flour
3/4 cup arrowroot or sweet rice flour
1/2 cup coconut oil or ghee
2 duck eggs or 3 chicken eggs
1/3 cup Rapadura sugar or date sugar
2 tablespoons honey
1/2 teaspoon pectin or xanthan gum
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 – 4 tablespoons water
Grind the crispy nuts in the food processor. Pulse in the remaining ingredients, except the water. Add the water one teaspoon at a time, blending until the dough is smooth and soft. The texture should resemble sugar cookie dough. If it is too soft to handle, refrigerate it for about an hour until firm. Preheat the oven to 300.˚ Roll out the dough, using arrowroot flour to prevent sticking. Cut with cookie cutters and carefully place on a parchment- lined baking sheet. Baking times will vary depending on the size and thickness of the cookies. They may be ready in as little as six minutes. They will be golden and fragrant but still a little soft. Cool the cookies on the baking sheet before storing them in a tightly closed container in the fridge.
This article appeared in Wise Traditions in Food, Farming and the Healing Arts, the quarterly journal of the Weston A. Price Foundation, Fall 2008.