Friday, October 8, 2010

Let's Move! Into PS 53...WITS Program starts!

As of September I began training for the WITS (Wellness in the Schools) program. As a WITS in Residence I have signed on to the task of training public school cafeteria workers on returning back to slow cooking. The project involves me staying at a school for a whole year and upon my leaving the cafeteria staff should feel comfortable continuing the newly placed menus.

I was placed at PS 53 in the Bronx with a kitchen that has no actual stove, but has a bathtub-size braiser, a steamer, and warmer. There are about 5 cafeteria women and 2 heavy men (they throw out the garbage, take care of deliveries etc) I officially started Sept 27th and so far my task has definitely proved to be challenging. As you can imagine most of the staff have been there for more than 15 years and have become accustomed to warming up lunch food that we as adults may still remember eating as a child. Classics like chicken nuggets, french fries, hamburgers and rolled up lasagna. Although some changes have been made over the years--like the availability of low fat milk or the end to chocolate or pink milk, like in my school--there is so much more that needs changing. This is not to undermine the work of the staff, trust me they work hard and a lot of them have a natural ability to cook very well. I get a taste of there true cooking skills during family meal, but the fact that a separate meal is cooked by the cafeteria staff to eat says a lot: that even they want nothing or little to do with the food they serve. Guess we can all agree things need to change!

On October 4th we launched the new WITS menu (a compromise between school food services and the WITS program). On Monday we prepared Vegetarian Chili, Tuesday, Rachel Ray's Mac & Trees (soon to be changed to Pesto Pasta!), Wednesday Turkey and Cheese Wraps, Thursday, Asian Chicken with Brown Rice & Corn and Friday, Sauteed Vegetable Pizza. At first the staff were concerned that the children wouldn't recognize these new ingredients, that lunch numbers will decrease, that the peanut butter & jelly option will increase, but I am extremely proud to say that the reverse has occurred! The children are loving the new food and I have gained their trust! The children compliment the new food items, ask for seconds, want to know what's on the menu for the next day, and as an added bonus, I receive countless hugs and high-5's for a job well done! In such little time, I already received the title as "the best chef ever!" Now how cool is that?!
Among the many things I've learned from the ups and downs that have occurred (or those that await me) I remind myself of my purpose: I am doing this for the children. That in itself makes it all worth while, fun, exciting and a blessing. I hope to continue to share my love for food with the kids at PS 53 for as long as I can, whether it be me personally or the spirit I leave behind to the cafeteria workers who will hopefully continue to prepare the same meals with the love and integrity that the children have learned to appreciate. Here's to a new year guys with real cooked food and realistic dreams for a better dining experience!

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