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Kicking school food up a notch 

click to enlarge First Lady Michelle Obama joins students for a Let's Move! Salad Bars to Schools launch event at Riverside Elementary School in Miami, Fla. in 2010. The Chef's Academy took part last month in the Chefs Move to School program, an offshoot of Let's Move.
  • First Lady Michelle Obama joins students for a Let's Move! Salad Bars to Schools launch event at Riverside Elementary School in Miami, Fla. in 2010. The Chef's Academy took part last month in the Chefs Move to School program, an offshoot of Let's Move.

October 31 usually means just one thing for children across America — consume as much candy as possible.

But last Wednesday saw a healthier spin on the typical Halloween, as students at The Chef’s Academy spent the day volunteering in seven Indianapolis Public School high schools, crafting upgraded versions of typical dishes and helping to educate students about better eating choices.

Created in conjunction with First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move! program, the Chefs Move to Schools initiative is part of a month-long partnership between members of the American Culinary Foundation (including The Chef’s Academy, Ivy Tech, The Art Institute and Second Helpings) and Indianapolis Public Schools.

“The program gets chefs involved with food service directors — not to uproot what they do, but to meet with nutritionists and dietitians, and come up with a healthy twist on what they’re offering,” says chef Jason Anderson, who spent his morning at Arsenal Tech High School.

Anderson was quick to point out that he admires efforts already underway in IPS schools to make the lunch options as fresh and healthy as possible.

“IPS’s Food Service Program is ranked in the top 10 in the United States as far as meeting nutritional guidelines,” he explains. “They’re moving to whole-grain pastas and rice, and offered a beautiful fresh fruit cup on Wednesday — there’s a real attempt to do it right.”

But Anderson knows that availability of quality foods doesn’t always translate into good eating choices: “Indiana is currently number 8 in adult obesity, and number 15 in childhood obesity, so we, as an ACF chapter, want to make a push to talk to as many students as we can about eating healthy.”

On Wednesday, Anderson met with the school's Superintendent and Food Service Director, reviewed the school menu for the week, and — without changing anything about the menu or what would need to be ordered — came up with a healthier option for something they were already serving.

He landed on a marinated vegetable salad, which was a collection of fresh vegetables that would normally utilize a pre-made Italian dressing, and replaced the dressing with olive oil (donated by Bogaris), balsamic vinegar and fresh herbs.

“By itself the pre-made lowfat salad dressing isn’t bad, but it’s full of chemicals and preservatives,” Anderson says. “We made a fresh vinaigrette to marinate the vegetables, and talked about the health benefits of using olive oil rather than a hydrogenated vegetable oil. Our goal for this event was just to scratch the surface — to show that you can make modifications with everyday ingredients you have in your house and have a healthier product.”

The vinaigrette recipe, which was available at the school and posted to the Chef’s Academy website, called for “your favorite vinegar” and used dried herbs, which are often more accessible at home.

Although last Wednesday’s school lunch event wrapped up the official month-long initiative, the Chef’s Academy website will continue to offer monthly ideas for healthy after-school snacks.

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