Monday, June 28, 2010

Outside the Lunch Box

 photo from
Feed your child a lunch for $2.60.**

I agree it doesn't sound that tough.  After all, you are a frugal shopper, searching the sale fliers to find the cheapest prices.

Oh, and it needs to be healthy.  Fruits and vegetables and whole grains.  If you read this blog, chances are you don't use as many processed ingredients as the rest of the United States, so no problem.

Now. Do the same thing for 50 kids.  Make sure every taste bud will be pleased. (Oh, I didn't mention that before?)  Make sure they get a protein, a veggie, some whole grains and a fruit. And stay away from fillers like extra sugar and starch to "bulk it up".  Serve it to kids who might not be getting dinner that night, and maybe didn't have breakfast, so the nutrition really counts here. Now do it for a whole school, serving each set of 50 kids 30 minutes apart.

Now does it sound simple?  This is what school cafeterias do every day, and they do it with the subsidized money they receive from the free lunch program.  Did I mention that $2.60 does not all go toward ingredients. A decent percentage is taken out to help pay for the whole cafeteria experience. Like salaries for the cafeteria staff.

OK, now do it.

This was the challenge to the contestants of Bravo's Top Chef this past week in an episode entitled Outside the Lunch Box. The episode supported First Lady Michelle Obama's Let’s Move! campaign to fight childhood obesity and came complete with the White House Chef  Sam Kass as guest judge. Four teams of "cheftestants" were given $130 (a generous allowance) to feed 50 kids.  The food had to taste good to the kids, have vegetables and fruits, and not contain fillers. 

Now granted, then were under an extraordinary deadline, having a time limit for planning and shopping.  After all, it is a tv competition.  A few arguments and egos also came into play.  But unlike the cafeteria staff, these chefs have years of culinary school and creativity to work with. (Plus a desire to win the challenge).

So how did they do?  The winning team had an amazing lunch of Pork Carnita Tacos with homemade oat tortillas, Roasted Corn Salad and Black Beans with sweet potato "curls".  Also given high marks was another team's BBQ Chicken using apple cider as the sweeter and a dessert of Fruit Kebab with a whipped yogurt that faked out as whipped cream.

The losing team served celery with a peanut butter mousse as the only vegetable and the chef that was sent home made banana pudding using 2 lbs of sugar.  Among the other misfires was chicken braised in sherry and a side dish of white rice with a few flecks of vegetables. 

Why am I telling you all of this?  Because it was interesting to watch professional chefs leave the kitchen and touch the issue first hand.  It was wonderful to introduce them and the viewing public to the Let's Move! program, and it was fun to see the kids embrace two of the lunches even though they were devoid of greasy pizza and limp french fries.

And lastly, I hope it will encourage chefs to join the Chefs Move to Schools program.

My friends, it CAN be done!

** I found a variance of numbers for this, but $2.60 seemed to be the most consistent, and the one given on Top Chef

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