I’ll write more about this later … but wanted to through out one question first.
Let’s Move!, in association with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), is challenging school nutrition professionals, chefs, students, parents and interested community members to create tasty, healthy, exciting new recipes for inclusion on school lunch menus across the country.
Participants will form teams, develop, document, and prepare at least one healthy recipe in one of three categories (Whole Grains, Dark Green and Orange vegetables, or Dry Beans and Peas). Their creations will be served in the school’s cafeteria, and rated by students. Fifteen semi-finalist teams will have their recipe evaluated by our judging panel during events held at their school, and the top three teams will compete in a national cook-off to determine the grand prize winner! Semi-finalists’ recipes will also be posted for online voting by the public to determine a Popular Choice Winner. Winning teams will be invited to prepare their nutrition-packed meals alongside White House chefs.
Here’s my thought: I’ve always been amazed that kids will eat the worst hamburgers or pizza, frozen and microwaved garbage with no flavor but a familiar look to it, but won’t try tasty dishes that look different. While I fully support the First Lady’s initiative here, I wonder if we’re missing a crucial element: preparation and presentation, not just ingredients and recipes. I wonder if we don’t need to also address the food preparation equipment in your typical public school cafeteria.
Check out your school’s cafeteria. What do you see? A couple of deep fryers, a large griddle or fry top surface of some sort, and a huge oven. So your menu options are limited to those things that can be mass produced on or in this equipment.
Maybe we need to invent some new large volume cooking equipment?
How do they currently cook veggies? Typically, they’re frozen, then boiled to death in a 10-20 gallon pot. We all know that microwaving veggies preserves the vitamins more efficiently, but a commercial microwave won’t get the job done. So how about a large volume design that would let the cooks whip up fifty servings at a time? Or maybe a high speed convection-hybrid TurboChefs like Starbucks is using for their sandwiches?
I think there’s also potential for a variation of sous vide style cooking in our schools. Prepared meals, vacuum sealed, then reheated quickly as the kids go through the line.
Last thought: I have noticed that kids are more receptive to meals when they either participate or see the preparation. When the cooks do their work in the back, then walk out with a tray of who knows what, the kids are unreceptive. Granted, letting them roll up their sleeves every day might be too much of a stretch, but think about a P.F. Chang’s style kitchen, right behind the counter, no walls, where the kids can see exactly what’s going on, see the flames and smoke and cool stuff that will get their interest.
I haven’t put too much thought into this … just heard the discussion on Science Friday, and the first thing that jumped into my head was, modern cafeterias look exactly like they did when I was in school some forty years ago. And with all of our technological advances, surely there are some kitchen equipment redesigns that could help get the kids away from burgers and chicken nuggets.
More to follow …