Alice Waters helps launch healthy school meals pilot in Richmond

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Famed chef and food activist Alice Waters on Wednesday helped announce a year-long healthy foods pilot program at Peres Elementary School in Richmond.

The program is set to bring The Conscious Kitchen‘s locally-sourced, health-focused meals to the menus at Peres as well as Madera Elementary in El Cerrito for the 2017-18 school year.

It’s part of a new partnership with the West Contra Costa Unified School District (WCCUSD) that received unanimous approval by the Board of Education. The partnership allows The Conscious Kitchen to fundraise alongside Peres and Madera in support of the healthy foods pilot program.

The agreement marks an expansion for The Conscious Kitchen, which launched about three years ago at a school in Marin City. The program, founded by Judi Shils, executive director for Turning Green, works to transition school meals from the pre-packaged, heat-and-serve brand to those that are “fresh, local, organic, seasonal and non-GMO.”

Kids prefer the healthy meals over the traditional ones, according to Shils, who says there’s data to prove it.

To find out how the kids responded to the food, The Conscious Kitchen tapped Dr. Jennifer Rienks, the associate director of Family Health Outcomes Project at UC San Francisco. Rienks studied survey results and other data to track student reactions to the foods being served, from how they enjoyed the meals to how they performed in school as a result.

Earlier this year, The Conscious Kitchen spent a week testing its meals out at Peres to positive effect, program officials say.

“That was one thing that I was really curious about: OK the kids will eat the beef burrito, but would they eat the broccoli, and would the eat the cauliflower?” Rienks said. “The answer is yes. Not only do they do that, they were significantly more likely to eat fruits and vegetables when The Conscious Kitchen was serving lunch than with the regular school lunch.”

And eating fruits and vegetables “can make a big difference in how well students do in school, and the test scores they get,” Rienks said.

“During just one week [of the demonstration at Peres], teachers reported that students were calmer, more attentive, and complained less about stomachaches,” said Lisa LeBlanc, WCCUSD’s associate superintendent. “We look forward to building on that success.”

Waters says food should be affordable “but not cheap.”

“School supported agriculture will strengthen our farmers, ranchers and soil; while coalescing our schools and communities through food,” Waters said.

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