Updates for Nutrition Education
“Umm, excuse me miss; you said you were going to teach me about how strawberries grow after I try this salad. I’ve tried it!” an eager Aiton Elementary student exclaimed while examining a little plant with two new strawberries among its leaves.
On Wednesday, June 8th, DC Central Kitchen’s school foods team celebrated the benefits of local, seasonable food with students at Aiton Elementary School.
While passing out tasting plates of our homemade strawberry salad over lunch, the team educated students about the benefits of healthy eating and explained that the delicious strawberries and salad greens came from Kilmer’s Orchard and Mock’s Greenhouse, two of DCCK’s partner farms in West Virginia.
After lunch, students participated in a nutrition education session with our traveling, edible exhibit, the Truck Farm. The Truck Farm is a garden in the bed of a pick-up truck that we bring to schools and youth programs to educate children about how fruits and vegetables grow.
DCCK is no stranger to using local fruits and vegetables in our meals. This school year alone, school lunches have included food made from 251,152 pounds of local product, and nearly 40% of all food used in our school meals is locally grown.
Last week, DC Central Kitchen held its second Healthy Corners pop-up market at the Chesapeake Big Market corner store in Ward 8. The second pop-up market at this location was resounding success and resulted in the sale of more than 225 pounds of fresh fruits and vegetables!
At every Healthy Corners Pop-Up Market, our Nutrition & Community Outreach team brings a variety of fresh produce which we sell at deeply discounted prices. The model provides a risk-free way for store owners to test the demand for fresh produce in their neighborhood without purchasing it themselves, while making healthy food available in communities that wouldn’t otherwise have access to affordable fresh fruits and vegetables. The pop-up markets also provide cooking demonstrations and taste tests for corner store customers.
Earlier this year, our Nutrition & Community Outreach team developed a tiered membership system for corner stores in DC’s food deserts to participate in our Healthy Corners model. The first tier includes the standard comprehensive partnership benefits of our existing Healthy Corners partner corner stores, like free refrigeration units and weekly produce deliveries. The second tier is the pop-up model we brought to Chesapeake Big Market last week. Second-tier partners don’t immediately receive the full benefits of refrigeration and weekly deliveries, but do receive quarterly deliveries of produce which our team sells during pop-up events, as well as nutrition education sessions and free marketing materials, as they test and build local demand for fresh food. The third tier of Healthy Corners membership is for store owners who already sell limited quantities of produce, but are interested in receiving promotional marketing materials, like guides for easy, healthy home recipes, that they can share with customers in an effort to grow the demand for more nutritious products.
Chesapeake Big Market is typical of many corner stores located east of the Anacostia River in Ward 8. The interior of the store is lined with floor to ceiling glass partitions, and customers place their orders at the window for the cashier to fetch and ring the items for check-out. During DCCK’s pop-up event, however, the interior of Chesapeake Big Market had an entirely different setup. Beautiful, engaging displays of kale, cucumbers, sweet potatoes, oranges, bananas, and peaches lined the perimeter of the store for customers to peruse and pick at their leisure.
Be sure to check out photos from the Chesapeake Big Market pop-up on our Flickr page and stay tuned for more information about future Healthy Corners pop-up markets!
At DC Central Kitchen we’re operating innovative programs that fight poverty, hunger, and poor health 365 days a year. Though our work is constant, we’re always striving to do more. In fact, as of Pi Day (March 14, or 3.14) 2016, our Community Outreach team has conducted 314 nutrition education events for our community since January 2015! While many people in our city are aware of our efforts to bring healthy, affordable food to neighborhoods where it would otherwise be scarce, we have made major investments in our outreach and nutrition education efforts in the past few years as well. It’s not enough just to expand the radius of our healthy food distribution network. To create a virtuous circle of healthy behaviors, we’re giving parents, children, and other residents of DC’s food deserts the knowledge and skills they need to make that food part of their daily lives.
In an effort to integrate healthy food and healthy living, DC Central Kitchen’s programs reach DC residents where they are – whether that’s in their community, at school, or at their local corner store. While many DC residents live more than a mile from their nearest full-service grocery store, we’ve found that doesn’t reflect a lack of consumer demand for fresh, nutritious items—just a failure of supply. With over 67 current locations, our Healthy Corners program makes healthy food affordable and accessible. We develop new products that encourage healthy eating on the go, including fresh-cut fruit, scratch-cooked versions of popular snacks, and healthy, ready-to-eat meals packed with wholesome ingredients.
In order to help DC residents learn how to create full meals out of the ingredients sold at their corner store, our Community Outreach team offers cooking demonstrations and provides recipes cards for healthy meals that can be made using affordable products sold at our Healthy Corners locations.
We believe changing behaviors and creating affordable access to healthy food requires going beyond single-pronged solutions. That’s why we’re fighting childhood obesity and poor health through a recent partnership with the DC Department of Health (DOH) and Playworks, a national nonprofit organization that turns recess and afterschool hours into structured opportunities for physical activity and healthy play. DCCK brings nutrition education and healthy food to Playworks’ partner schools in Wards 5, 6, 7, and 8, and Playworks helps DCCK educate our students about easy strategies for increasing daily physical activity. Together, we’re reaching more at-risk children and families more holistically.
“I was greeted with a big hug from, Michael, a fifth grader at one of our partner schools. He was so excited to recognize me from both Playworks Junior Coach Leadership Program (JCLP) and Class Game Time (CGT). After spending almost 2 hours on Wednesday in JCLP learning about nutrients and playing a game called ‘Meal-ay Race,’ Michael was ecstatic to see me in his classroom the next day. He knew that we would be discussing similar topics in his class and was prepared to answer every question. He even helped explain the game to his classmates!”
As the food service provider for 11 schools serving low-income children in DC, we’re preparing and serving up to 6,800 healthy, scratch-cooked breakfasts, lunches, and suppers every day. Like all educators, we want to see our students take home with them what they learn in school, so we offer recipes and cooking demonstrations to help parents transfer the good habits kids learn at school to the dinner table at home.
DC Central Kitchen’s mission is to use food as a tool to strengthen bodies, empower minds, and build communities, and our nutrition education initiatives are just one way we’re building a stronger community through food, together. Whether our outreach team is in a school, an afterschool program, or a corner store, we’re working to bridge the gap between knowledge and affordability to create a healthier, more prosperous community for us all.
On Tuesday, DC Central Kitchen was presented with a Golden Carrot Award and a $2,015 grant from the Physicians Committee. The Golden Carrot Awards, established in 2004, recognizes food service teams in both public and private school districts doing exceptional work to improve the healthfulness of school lunches.
During the spring 2015 semester, DCCK participated in a plant-based pilot program at Walker Jones Education Campus – one of 10 schools served by DC Central Kitchen – where students were introduced to six different plant-based vegan entrées. The most popular meals—chili, pasta with chickpeas, barbecue tofu bites, and veggie burgers—will make their way into the regular lineup as daily vegetarian options at Walker Jones and in the nine other district schools where DC Central Kitchen is the food service provider.
“Providing students with exposure to new foods is always a fun challenge. We see students we first started working with as kindergartners now graduate as eighth graders with a new palate and appreciation for fresh, healthful foods.”
Receiving the Golden Carrot Award reinforces DC Central Kitchen’s unique approach to school food. Each of the more than 6,300 daily meals prepared for DC schoolchildren are made from scratch and contain at least two local ingredients. Our popular vegetable democracy taste tests, “Fresh Feature Fridays,” allow students vote on vegetables prepared their favorite way and see it on their lunch menu the following month.
At DC Central Kitchen, we are proving that healthy, scratch-cooked meals can be enjoyable for children, affordable for school districts, and valuable for teachers who need children to be nourished and focused.
To learn more about the Golden Carrot Awards visit HealthySchoolLunches.org.
Our nutrition outreach team joined the 4th and 5th graders during their “Junior Coach” training at the Washington Nationals Youth Baseball Academy with Playworks DC, a national organization that brings positive play and physical activity to schools. The students attend six DC public schools in low-income areas across DC’s Wards 7 and 8.
To make it approachable for the students, our team used simple recipes with 3 or fewer ingredients —each snack took only about 5 minutes to prepare! Students also went home with recipe cards to create the snacks again at home.
DC Central Kitchen and Playworks are already planning for further ways to partner and provide nutrition education and physical activity promotion for DC’s youth. To learn more about DC Central Kitchen’s community nutrition outreach, visit http://www.dccentralkitchen.org/healthyfutures/.
A recent Washington Post opinion piece calling for a national food policy put foodies, health advocates, policy wonks, and political partisans on notice. In “How a national food policy could save millions of American lives” authors Mark Bittman, Michael Pollan, Ricardo Salvador, and Olivier De Schutter took the United States to task for failing to set an overarching vision for the most fundamental determinant of our daily health:—“how we produce and consume food.” They urged the US to embrace a more strategic, coherent approach, and stop undermining our own progress through contradictory stances that advance “diametrically opposed goals.” The miniature manifesto is likely to inspire many philanthropists, policymakers, and advocates and serve as a reference point in America’s food policy debates for years to come.
But smarter national policy is just part of the puzzle. A top-down approach can only work if it’s advancing and amplifying what’s working from the bottom-up. At DC Central Kitchen, we embody many of the principles laid out by Bittman and company. Founded as the nation’s first community kitchen, we’ve been a leading advocate for recycling surplus food, paying fair wages, and building more robust local food systems. For years, we’ve translated their grand goals into the gritty grassroots work of liberating and strengthening our community through the power of food. And what we’re doing is working.
Of the nine ‘guarantees’ the authors would like US food policy to ensure, DC Central Kitchen has pioneered real, path-breaking progress toward six:
- All Americans have access to healthful food. DCCK prepares nearly 12,000 healthy meals each day—5,000 for DC’s homeless shelters, halfway houses, and direct service nonprofits, and more than 6,000 for low-income DC schoolchildren. Our school meals are scratch-cooked, locally sourced, and meet all the health standards that have sparked so much debate in the past few years. And most importantly, kids love them. DCCK’s unique approach to fighting food deserts even won a national Social Innovation Challenge award from Tavis Smiley and the University of Maryland this year.
- Farm policies are designed to support our public health and environmental objectives. We’re proof that national policy pushes can work at the local level. As a USDA Farm to School grantee, we increased purchases of six local crops by more than 200% and saw student consumption of items like sweet potatoes and broccoli nearly double. But it look lots of on-the-ground inventiveness and grassroots community engagement to achieve these gains.
- Production and marketing of our food are done transparently. Want to see our kitchens in action? Come visit—or better yet, volunteer. Check out our Volunteer Bill of Rights, which ensures that our volunteers have the ability to understand what they’re contributing to and why. Interested in what we’re serving in schools? You can see our menus for breakfast, lunch, and supper here.
- The food industry pays a fair wage to those it employs. DCCK is proud to be a job creator. We train at-risk women and men in the culinary arts and work to hire as many as we can in living wage positions. Today, 60 of our own graduates—people with histories of incarceration, addiction, homelessness, and chronic unemployment—now work for DCCK full-time, powering our pioneering programs. We provide a starting wage of $13.60 per hour with full health benefits and a 50% retirement match, because we believe work should pay in America.
- Food marketing sets children up for healthful lives by instilling in them a habit of eating real food. Our Healthy Corners program delivers nutritious snacks to 64 corner stores in low-income neighborhoods, marketing our fruits, vegetables, and prepared foods in stores, on buses, and at community events. We conduct taste tests in the school cafeterias where we serve lunch to refine recipes and get kids excited about healthy eating. And we even operate a mobile garden out of the bed of a pickup truck so we can bring seed-to-table lessons to inner city schools and youth programs.
- The food system’s carbon footprint is reduced. DCCK reduces shipping costs (and emissions) by buying locally; as the only USDA-recognized Food Hub in the District of Columbia, we’re aggregating and redistributing more than 200,000 pounds of local produce each year, investing in dozens of small and mid-size family farms. We also help local farmers sell more of what they grow, by purchasing aesthetically imperfect fruits and vegetables that otherwise wouldn’t have a buyer and would be plowed back under as seed. America wastes forty percent of its food supply each year, and this wasteful practice is a primary driver of that disturbing statistic.
We aren’t experts in climate change, animal husbandry, or antibiotics, so our programs don’t match up with all nine of the goals laid out in the Post—and we’re perfectly fine with that. But if that editorial got you thinking about the future of food in America, we hope our programs will get you excited about what’s already really happening in our country.
Our successes are real, and they’re changing lives in our community for the better. As the important conversation about smarter food policy moves forward, let’s make sure the dialogue is equally focused on smarter food practices, and use those practices to shape better policy.