A wide variety of foods is offered, differing in ethnic origins, tastes and seasonings so that students will leave the school understanding how good, healthy food tastes and they will be less like to order unhealthy food in restaurants. Says Chef Bobo, "We try to train the palates of our kids so that our efforts will last for a lifetime. We frequently have kids coming in to report that over the weekend they ate "fast food" and found it to be disgusting! For us, it's not just about lunch but for the future of our kids and the future of their kids."
Are any natural products used? If so, approximately what percentage of total foods served are natural and/or organic?
The menu is 100% all natural. "Our concern is less with organic and more with natural and local," says Chef Bobo.
Yes, much of our produce and chicken is from local vendors. We are looking to add beef and pork to the list, from a local farm. We get all of our whole wheat pasta from a former Calhoun parent who has a pasta factory.
A minimum of 20% of our hot entrees is vegetarian. We do not use butter in our vegetables; we use only olive oil, canola-olive blended oil and grapeseed oil. We always offer a vegan option to those students and staff who have identified themselves as vegan. Our soups are freshly made each day from scratch and they are mostly vegan (90 percent); an exception is when we prepare chicken soup. If soup is chicken, then the sandwich for the day is vegetarian; if the sandwich has animal protein, then the soup is vegetarian.
Our pastas are whole wheat, our bagels at breakfast are all whole wheat. We make whole wheat muffins. We offer a great variety of grains at lunch from soba to quinoa, from bulghar wheat to brown basmati rice, millet and farro.
In addition to our hot choices, we offer two salad bars that are a virtual garden center of fresh fruit and vegetables, and a daily salad dressing made from scratch each day. We serve seasonal items and constantly look for new foods to introduce to kids. Some examples are edamame, "sea beans," "fiddlehead ferns," kumquats, figs and various types of grapes, berries and citrus fruits. There are always the standards to enjoy: salad greens, tomatoes and onions, cucumbers, tofu, apples, oranges and bananas, melons, olives and pickles, and alfalfa sprouts. Fresh fruit is promoted as "dessert."
Non-dairy beverages are always available. We serve apple cider, apple juice, white grape juice and water. We will not serve any beverage that has any form of added sugar or high fructose corn syrup. The cost of these beverages is not any higher than the cost of milk.
All of our vegetables are prepared in a low-fat manner — steamed or roasted or raw. Our "smashed potatoes" do not contain any dairy product. Our "french fries" are not fried; they are tossed with a little olive oil and roasted in our convection ovens. We offer fish as an entrée, approx. two days out of ten. Our soups are made from our own vegetable stock ,for which the only fat is a little olive oil to sauté the mirepoix. Our yogurts are low fat (and organic); all of our beverages or either low fat (1% milk) or non-fat (juices). Beans and rice are cooked with very little canola oil for sautéing the mirepoix. We frequently serve roasted tofu as both an entrée option and for our sandwiches. Tofu is always a part of our salad bar.
We are a nut-free school. But we are also mindful of specific allergies of our students and prepare special dishes for those who have problems, when appropriate (i.e., if food has dairy in it, we prepare the same food without dairy).
We do not receive food from the National School Lunch Program and thus we are not eligible for commodity foods.
The menu strategy for the lunch program is openly promoted and is available to everyone. The menus are posted on the school's Web site and each day a "menu of the day" is posted throughout the school. These menus identify which items are vegetarian and those which may not be vegan.
The Food Service Director/Executive Chef ("Chef Bobo") is ever present in the lunch room, encouraging students to try healthy choices and explaining the benefits of healthy choices. Chef Bobo meets with students — in assemblies, in classrooms and individually — and with parents, in groups and individually, to explain the School's strategy for healthy lunch.
Chef Bobo works with individual students who have special dietary needs to offer healthy choices that are consistent with those needs. Students involved in sports often come and seek advice on what to eat to maximize their performance.
When new food items are introduced into the lunch menu (as was done with Quinoa), Chef Bobo and his staff will often go to Lower School classes to show the raw product, explain how it is cooked and to offer tastings of the finished product. The nutritional benefits are discussed and how those benefits affect everyday life, along with any interesting historical information about the food. Chef Bobo and his staff of chefs are frequently invited to science classes to talk about nutrition or food chemistry. The staff also supports social studies and language teachers when they are presenting units about specific cultures or geographic region by planning lunch menus to support those lessons. During the 2006-07 school year, the food service staff featured vegan items common in the Middle Ages, and had the students prepare the dishes so they could experience that time in history.
Afternoon snacks for Calhoun's Lower School children have been switched to fresh fruits from packaged convenience snacks that contained sugars and transfats, thanks to Chef Bobo's guidance. Teachers often express amazement at the amount of fruit the kids are eating now, and how much they love it.
Chef Bobo and his staff are an enthusiastic force in the planting and raising of vegetables and herbs on the School's Green Roof garden. Beginning in the 2007 school year, the staff hopes to introduce students (particularly those in the after-school classes) to the entire cycle of food preparation — from planting and caring for the herbs and vegetables in the garden, to food preparation and recycling (composting).
Chef Bobo answers: "At Calhoun, our story is fairly straightforward and incredible only insofar as the success of its outcome. Three parents got together in 1999 over lunch, happy that they would no longer have to pack lunch every day but worried about the fact that their kids would be beholden to the school's institutional lunch program in the coming year. Concerns they voiced ranged from the quality of the ingredients to the atmosphere within which lunch was served.
"There was, per se, nothing unusually wrong with the lunch program... at least at the time. It was provided by a standard food service company that serviced many of New York City's private schools. There were choices every day, including a hot lunch. But after analysis, it was determined that much was overly processed, out of a can, loaded with corn syrup, and laden with numerous multi-syllable preservatives. "After some period of discussion, the parents concluded that it would be irresponsible to put the issue to the side. They embarked on a journey of observation, analysis, and recommendations that led to a completely new way of looking at lunch. They involved faculty, students and administration at this juncture, to ensure widespread advocacy and participation within the school community. While many, particularly administration, were reticent to focus time and energy toward a non-academic effort, the passion and commitment of the initial parent group provided the necessary fuel to feed the fire. In fact, as was true at Calhoun, broad and passionate advocacy is a prerequisite to success. Change is difficult and challenging on all levels and it is unlikely to occur without an appropriate base of unwavering commitment of the cause.
"Once the expanded team's observation on the current state of affairs was complete, they were quickly aligned on actions that should be taken to remedy what was clearly a challenging situation. The first stop, observations of and discussions with the current food service company, quickly demonstrated an inability to fulfill the requested changes toward a healthier program. At that point, with internal alignment in place, drastically different tactics were required. The broad-based involvement did not end at that point. Throughout the process of change, parents, teachers, students and administration were engaged and encouraged to participate on a daily basis (serving lunch, eating lunch, etc.) in the evolution toward healthier eating for all members of the school community."