With kids, you can gauge the popularity of a meal by the amount of it smeared on their faces. And this past week at Highland Heights Public School I had the opportunity to witness quite a few spaghetti-stained smiles.
I also saw evidence of Caesar Salad on a kindergarten forehead and chocolate brownie stains on a fifth grade nose.
By the looks of things, lunch went swimmingly. You can chalk that up to the early success of the innovative Living Lunchbox program. Also to the infectious enthusiasm of Maeda Welch, it’s founder.
The Lunchbox offers a nutritious upgrade on the old “Hot Dog Days” that used to mark school calendars. With a newfound emphasis on health and nutrition, the Provincial Government has put strict guidelines on what can and cannot be served to kids during catered lunch programs. Hot dogs are out, well-rounded meals featuring fresh fruits and vegetables are in.
Aware of changes to school policy, Welch decided that the time was right to bring her enthusiasm for local and seasonal food to Peterborough school communities. After all, there was still demand for special lunches and the fundraising opportunities they represented.
She spent a year brainstorming, making contacts, and then writing up proposals. She approached several schools and found a good fit with Highland Heights. This year, she launched “the Lunchbox,” serving up hot meals to students every two weeks. Although the program is being piloted at Highland Heights, there are plans for more schools in the future.
It’s been garnering rave reviews.
The secret? Finding nutritious ways to serve up the foods that kids love. This includes using zucchini as a moistening and binding agent in brownies, and serving pizzas that are chock full of vegetables. She’s served lentil veggie burger “sliders” with sweet potato fries, veggie quesadilla, chili with corn muffins. Almost everything has been a hit.
“The Jack o’ Lantern soup didn’t exactly fly,” admitted Welch. “So we’ll be taking squash soup off the menu.”
Not only do the foods need to be kid-friendly, they also need to be approved by a dietician in order to make sure they are reaching Ministry guidelines.
And then there are the strict guidelines that Welch has set for herself. As much as possible, the ingredients should be sourced locally and organically. There should be a minimum of packaging on both the ingredients and the lunches that she serves. And it should be food that she can take pride in serving.
“I shop for most of my ingredients at the Farmers’ Market,” she explains. “And then from local stores when I need something that I can’t find at market. To cut down on packaging I buy things in bulk. And the odd time that I do need to buy something from a grocery store, I’m careful about where it comes from and how it is packaged.”
The Lunchbox aims to nourish the mind as well as the body. There is an educational component that will be coming up later in the year, where students will get the opportunity to learn more about local and seasonal food in a classroom setting.
Right now, they are still learning plenty. All menus that are sent out to student households contain information on the growers and producers of local ingredients.
“The kids are starting to figure out that the food that they’ve been enjoying so much is good for them, good for the environment, and beneficial to their community.”
They’re also a lot of fun.
Just ask the kid with the spaghetti in her hair.
Maeda’s Chocolate Beet Cake
Have your cake and enjoy it too, knowing that it is delicious and nutritious! Served as a square or as cake, this recipe is a great way to get kids eating more veggies! Many of the ingredients can be found locally throughout the winter season.
12 to 16
2 cups fresh beets (from the Peterborough Farmers Market)
½ cup applesauce (from local apples)
1 ½ cups granulated sugar
½ cup oil
½ cup plain yogurt
3 local eggs
1 ½ teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 ½ cups local all purpose flour
1 cup local whole wheat flour
½ cup baking cocoa
1½ teaspoons baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
1 cup chocolate chips
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease a cake pan.
- Fill a pot with water and bring to a boil. Add the beets and boil 20 minutes. Drain and allow to cool. Use a vegetable peeler to remove the beet skin, then chop. Pour into a large bowl.
- Add the applesauce to the beets and use an immersion blender to puree.
- In a separate bowl, combine the sugar, oil, yogurt, eggs, and vanilla. Cream until smooth. Add the rest of the ingredients, except the chocolate chips, stirring to blend well.
- Pour the flour mixture into the beet mixture, beating until just blended.
- Pour half the batter into the prepared cake pan. Sprinkle the chocolate chips on top of the batter in the pan, then pour the remaining batter over the top of the chips.
- Bake for 45 to 50 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean.