Updates for School Food
“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.
DC Central Kitchen has been selected as one of the food service providers for DC Public Schools in the 2016-2017 academic year. A continuation of our partnership with DC Public Schools that began in 2010, and pending approval by DC Council and the Attorney General, DCCK will provide healthy, scratch-cooked meals to schoolchildren at 12 District schools in Ward 7. DCCK will continue its food service to two private schools that serve low-income children, as well as a charter school in Ward 6.
For the fifth consecutive year, DC Central Kitchen was selected by First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move! initiative to prepare more than 100 kid-submitted recipes for the fifth annual Healthy Lunchtime Challenge.
Students from across the country ages 8-12 were invited to submit an original recipe of a healthy lunch they enjoy. For the challenge, two finalists from each state, territory, and the District of Columbia were selected to have their recipes prepared by DC Central Kitchen and judged by panelists including Editor-in-Chief, Everyday With Rachel Ray, Lauren Purcell; Executive Director of Let’s Move, Deb Eschmeyer; and two previous kid-winners of the Healthy Lunchtime Challenge, Tim Burke (Washington, DC) and Braxton Young (Maryland).
All told, DC Central Kitchen prepared over 200 plates for the challenge. One winner from each state, territory, and the District of Columbia will be flown to Washington, DC for the 2016 Kids’ “State Dinner” at the White House, where a selection of the winning recipes will be served. Winners will be announced in June.
DC Central Kitchen’s team spends nearly three weeks preparing for the challenge, which includes preparing recipes such as Quinoa Crusted Katsu Curry with Cauliflower Rice, submitted by a child from Guam, and West Wing Chicken with Secret Service Noodles, submitted by a student from Illinois. From sourcing ingredients, to preparing the recipes, and then ultimately plating three of each recipe from all 50 states for judging, the team from DC Central Kitchen is integral to the success of the Healthy Lunchtime Challenge.
As the school food provider for 11 schools in Washington, DC, DC Central Kitchen is no stranger to preparing healthy meals from scratch for kids. From the organization’s Fresh Feature Friday taste-testing activity that engages young people in their very own lunchtime ‘food democracy,’ to the 6,800 locally-sourced, scratch-cooked, healthy meals served every day to 3,600 kids in DC’s low-income communities , DC Central Kitchen is uniquely positioned to serve as the meal preparation partner for this year’s Healthy Lunchtime Challenge.
The Healthy Lunchtime Challenge is a joint effort between the First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move! campaign, the U.S. Department of Education, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
View behind-the-scenes photos from the fifth annual Healthy Lunchtime Challenge on DC Central Kitchen’s Flickr page here.
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.
In recognition of National School Breakfast Week, DC Central Kitchen today held a “Breakfast Fest” for students and parents at the 8 DC Public Schools where DC Central Kitchen is the food service provider. Parents were invited to join their children for a free, healthy breakfast meal consisting of whole grain waffle sticks with all natural syrup, turkey sausage, fresh local pear, and skim or 1% milk.
In Ward 7 at Nalle Elementary School, students and their parents were joined by Councilmember David Grosso (I-At-Large); Chair of the DC Food Policy Council, Chef Spike Mendelsohn; Food Policy Director for the DC Office of Planning, Laine Cidlowski; and community partners to see DC Central Kitchen’s school breakfast program first-hand.
With one in seven District households struggling with hunger, school breakfast is a vital tool in improving food security, academic achievement, and child health. According to the US Department of Agriculture, breakfast helps children pay attention, better perform problem-solving tasks, and improves memory. With an obesity rate of 44 percent among DC children living below the poverty line, studies have shown that children who eat breakfast on a regular basis are less likely to be overweight.
The passage of the Healthy Schools Act in 2010 made school breakfast free for all DC Public School and charter school students. As the food service provider for 8 DC Public Schools, two private schools , and a charter school all serving primarily low-income youth, DC Central Kitchen provides 6,800 healthy, locally-sourced, scratch-cooked school meals every day that helps students to learn, grow, and achieve their full potential.
“As a local nonprofit committed to supporting our community through food, we want to remind DC families that school breakfast is not only a free resource, but it also provides the necessary nutrition students need to remain nourished and engaged at school,” said DC Central Kitchen CEO, Michael Curtin, Jr. “For the nearly 19 percent of DC residents living below the poverty line, school meals fill an important gap in food insecure households and provide an accessible way for parents to establish healthy eating habits for their children.”
DC Central Kitchen’s “Breakfast Fest” at Nalle Elementary School brought together families, community partners, government officials, and others committed to improving the role of school nutrition and school breakfast for DC children. Check out more photos on our Flickr page!
Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw was once quoted saying: “The people who get on in this world are the people who get up and look for the circumstances they want, and, if they can’t find them, make them.” That concept is embodied by one of our staff members and Culinary Job Training (CJT) graduates, Crystal.
Crystal is living proof that with enough drive and passion, a person can truly turn their life around. After returning home from prison with a felony on her record, Crystal knew she would have to build her life up from scratch. At age 30, she had no prior work experience and nothing to her name except a very supportive family, and more than a little ambition.
After returning home from prison, Crystal began volunteering at a local nonprofit called Friendship Place in order to gain community service hours as terms of her release. It was here that she learned about DC Central Kitchen’s Culinary Job Training program. Crystal wanted to live a life of purpose; she wanted to find a way to do something she enjoyed, while also earning a living wage, and she knew this would be a difficult task with a felony on her record. She had never cooked before, but wanted to find a way to gain marketable skills, allowing her to find more than just a job, but a career. So, she set out to pursue her goals – a woman on a mission.
“I didn’t want to just learn how to do something and get a job; I wanted to acquire a skill that I could use to get other jobs. So, I focused on learning, as opposed to just being there. I showed up every morning on time, excited about being there.”
Upon graduating from CJT in January 2013, Crystal began working at Geppetto Catering in Riverdale, Maryland. Six months later, Crystal was hired by DCCK to work in our School Food program for which we serve up 4,300 locally-sourced, scratch-cooked meals to low-income D.C. schoolchildren every day. Only one year after joining the School Food team, Crystal found herself promoted to a supervisor position. She now works in DC Central Kitchen’s Nutrition Lab in Northeast, DC, overseeing her team of 12 staff as they all work together to meet each day’s quota of healthy meals for 10 schools in the District.
Not missing a beat since choosing to change her life’s path, Crystal not only has a job she loves, but has nearly completed a degree in computer science as well. Crystal climbed onto a moving train that’s not stopping anytime soon. She feels she has recreated herself. As this incredible young woman continues to beat the odds, it seems only the sky is the limit for her.
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