A Tribute to School Food

A Tribute to School Food

(Crystal A. Proxmire, 1/20/2011)

The food revolution is on in Ferndale Schools.  When Coolidge and JFK Schools got slushees in the cafeteria last week, few knew that the sweet, chilly treat is really made from 100% fruit.  Other changes have been made over the past few months which have been subtly introducing more and more healthy food into the breakfast and lunch of students in the district.

Ferndale Public School lunches are now much different than the card-board like pizza and never-ending supply of French fries and ranch dressing that anyone over 20 is likely to remember.  The District has contracted with Chartwell’s, a food service company with a strong philosophy of sustainable, healthy eating, to create a new kind of school lunch environment.  Executive Chef Jeremy Burean, who the kids call “Chef Jeremy,” is in charge of making sure they get the best food possible.  He and Food Service Director Lauren Shields have transformed the way students in the district eat.

According to Chef Jeremy, some of the changes include:

-An ID-based payment program that requires students to swipe their student identification card in order to pay for breakfast or lunch items.  The system itemizes student spending so parents can log into a website and see exactly what their youngster has been buying.

-There is no soda available on campus, and highly processed drinks like lemonade and “enhanced” waters have been replaced with 100% juices and waters.

-Pizza is now made with whole wheat crust and organic cheese.

-Every school has a full salad bar with fresh fruit and vegetables.  The high schools and middle school have a nacho line and even items such as chopped jalapeños are made fresh, not canned or preserved.

-Chef Jeremy cooks without salt, and there is no additional salt or sugar available for kids to add to their food.

-There are always vegetarian options available on the salad bar, including beans for protein, and most days there is at least one vegetarian entrée.  Mondays have recently been declared Meatless Mondays where the hot line carries things like cheese lasagna or nachos with refried beans.

-100% fruit slushees at Coolidge and JFK.  Plus each day children now have the option of substituting a chef salad or chicken salad sandwich for their hot meal.

-University High School recently added a second hot lunch line, giving students more options and more time to enjoy their food.  They also expanded their salad bar to include wraps and pre-made deli salads.

-Breakfast used to be served just in the cafeteria in the high school/middle school building, but middle school students were deterred from eating because they didn’t want to be around the older high school students.  Now there is a cart of breakfast items set up in the middle school part of the building.  Sales of breakfast items have increased 30%, meaning that approximately 100 more young people are going to class with a healthier start to their day.

-When Chef Jeremy talked to adult education students at Taft about their cafeteria program, they told him they wanted “more than just pizza.”  So that’s what they got – deli sandwiches, salads, chicken and more.

Many of the changes have been gradually added in, without making a big deal about the healthy aspect to the students.  “We have decided to get rid of sugary breads and pastries completely by the end of the year,” Chef Jeremy said.  “But instead of just pulling all the Pop Tarts off the racks, we’ve started replacing them with in-between kinds of foods, like whole wheat alternatives.  That way we can wean them off the idea that breakfast is all about sugar and dough.”

And teachers say the difference is obvious not only in the choices young people are making, but in the way they behave in class as well.  Director of Community Relations Stephanie Hall says teachers have noticed that students are more alert in class and seem to have less highs and lows in their energy levels.  “By having consistent, healthy food the students have less behavioral problems.  Teachers at all the schools have told me there has been a difference,” Hall said.  “There are studies out there that show how caffeine, sugars, processed foods and chemicals affect our moods and our ability to concentrate.”  She recommended a segment on 60 Minutes where Alice Walker has been working to promote healthy eating in schools. (http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2009/03/13/60minutes/main4863738_page2.shtml).

Health education is a part of the change too though.  March is national nutrition month, and the students will be playing games on making healthy choices.  In Ferndale Middle School, the Ferndale Education Foundation is sponsoring a six week boot camp by everyBODY, LLC to get girls educated about nutrition and in the habit of exercising.

Surprisingly, lunch prices have not gone up in several years.  Hall said that is because of Chef Jeremy’s mindfulness of waste and because the District has gained revenue though having food service handle catering for events.

For those who are curious to meet Chef Jeremy and sample some of the delicious offerings by Chartwell’s, there will be a community-wide breakfast Tues. February 1, 2011, 8-9:30 am in the Ferndale High School Media Center.  It is Co-Hosted with the Ferndale Area Chamber of Commerce, and attended by Realtors, Elected Officials, Business Owners and others interested in the growth of the community.  The main purpose is not the food of course, but the opportunity to learn more about the Ferndale School District. However, the food is expected to be delicious.  If you are interested in attending, please call the Ferndale Schools Community Relations Office at 248/586-8651 to reserve your space.

For more information about Ferndale Public Schools go to http://www.ferndaleschools.org.

For previous Ferndale 115 News articles about schools, go to http://oaklandcounty115.com/category/school-news.

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