By guest blogger Julie Frans, Owner of Dining Details and Chickpeas.
It is shocking how many educated people have no education or true understanding when it comes to healthy eating. In my line of work, I come across so many parents who claim that they feed their families healthy food, but am shocked at their notions of heath! Their pantries are filled with processed foods, in boxes and bags with ingredient lists too long to read in one sitting, plastered front and back with nutritional claims. Where did we go wrong? How has America gotten so confused about what “food” is!?
I had a baby in December of 2008, and made a promise to myself to feed him only wholesome, organic foods during his formative years and beyond, making all of his baby food from scratch, and including him in our kitchen activities. Now at a year and a half, he is most entertained while sitting on the kitchen counter watching us prepare meals, grabbing a spatula or whisk most of the time to “help.” When we first started feeding him organic farm produce, incorporating flavors like fresh mint, black pepper, and basil, I started wondering… who would he eat with when he grows up? Who would appreciate food with him, or the quality of fresh farm goodness? Would he be alone in a world of fast food, processed junk addicts? And so… we created “Chickpeas… Quality Food for Growing Bodies.”
Chickpeas started as a school lunch program. We wanted to devise a menu that not only provided solid nutrition for kids, made with ingredients that truly fueled their growing minds and bodies, but also expanded their world of taste and flavor, and helped them develop a positive feeling about healthy food. We figured that if we could sneak better nutrition into the lunches, by adding veggie purees and shredded produce into the food, use a variety of grains like quinoa pasta and brown rice, and rotate our ingredients according to seasonality so that we could make use of local, organic foods, the students would be gaining a wealth of nutrient diversity and fresh flavor.
We found a pilot school that would allow us to launch our project, and we were quickly off and running! We put the wheels in motion to develop the company as a separate, but related, company to our primary business, Dining Details. Whereas Dining Details was focused on organic gourmet in a sophisticated, high end way, we wanted to draw kids to this healthy food company through bright, cartoon-y, farm inspired illustrations, showing that good food is fun, it’s recognizable, and it makes you feel good. We developed our mission and vision, hired the appropriate staff to help us carry out the first year, and moved into a large commercial kitchen of our own. We added services as we found more needs to fill, including adding family dinners as an option to our school program, developing a baby-food line to help get kids started even earlier on fresh- picked and fresh-made food, and lots of education. Our reputation for solid nutrition, ingredient integrity, and service standards grew quickly.
The company has grown leaps and bounds in only the first year of operation. With very little funding, and a very lean staff to run it, we have watched everything closely to make sure we can sustain this company without growing too fast or losing the vision and integrity we started with. We never intend to grow so big that we don’t know our students or our faculty or where our food is coming or going. We may find ways in years to come to expand, but for now, our goal is to provide food where we can, education to as many schools and people as we can reach, and make an impact on the larger picture of progress toward healthier school lunches.
We have focused on private schools, where there is a bit more flex in the cost of a school lunch, and parents are more able to pay for quality nutrition. We have had had many inquiries from parents and teachers in public schools, but with the prices and structure of commodities, public schools are still so limited in what they can offer in the way of healthy, let alone, organic lunches. The public school system has a long road ahead to be able to afford whole fresh foods. For now, we can offer school districts consultation on prioritizing their steps toward a healthier program, and guiding them on the road toward more nutritious lunch programs, but even with our help, the budgetary limitations restrict them so much. We will be working with our first small school district over the summer to help them revamp their program through the next several years. We can also influence public schools through education and discussions, empowering students to make healthier decisions and know the difference between food and chemicals. Once students are given the information, and learn what those unrecognizable words and processed sugars are doing to their minds and bodies, they are able to approach their meals in a different way. They can take the information home to help mom and dad understand what the packaging labels are REALLY saying.
Chickpeas has at least six private schools lined up for the coming school year, and the summer consulting project with a district. We are providing everything from baby food making classes and hands-on toddler nutrition to kids cooking and parents cooking classes. Our family dinner program gets healthy, wholesome dinners home to parents who want to feed their families well, but don’t have the time or knowledge on how to do so. When it comes down to it, Chickpeas is willing and ready to help however we can to get kids eating healthier! We are committed to do everything we can to save this generation from their forbidding projected health statistics. There is still time to turn the tables, and we hope to be a strong local impetus in redefining the health of the next generation.
I think that it is admirable what you have done, are doing and will do for the future of healthy eating for babies, children and adults. Isn’t it just predictable that the private schools, whose parents can usually afford to feed their child(ren) fresh organic foods, get top billing? It is quite understandable though, about public school funding for such things, but shouldn’t someone, somewhere, somehow try to reach the parents and district school boards of these students, and help them to understand the importance of providing and feeding their children and themselves quality food? What do you suggest these parents do? How can on the one hand, you advocate eating wholesome, healthy produce, meats and grains to students and parents and on the other hand, leave out the most important sector of society, those who cannot afford it and need it the most. I understand that funds, or the lack of them thereof, is the biggest issue/setback for such a program, but just informing someone is not doing them much good for nutrition. They can’t eat words. Have anyone tried to get these parents started on forming some kind of neighborhood garden (if they have the space, of course) that would be a start.
I also applaud Jamie Oliver. At least he’s starting where good nutrition is really necessary, the public schools.
PS- Most times parents work, come home late and start dinner. They are not going to worry about what their child(ren) brought home by way of nutritional information and what the packaging say. They need to get food on the table, whether it’s in a can, box, or jar, get the homework done, and get the child(ren) to bed. It would be nice if they could get several of these “dinners” ready made for them, so that they may get a taste of what a good nutrtious meal is like.
Regarding the PS – I think to let parents make the excuse that they are working and getting home late is no excuse at all. I work 30 minutes from home, full time, and I still find a way to feed my family a wholesome, good meal. (Bring on the crock pot and simply planning ahead!) I think some of our basic cooking skills have been forgotten by a large portion of our population – who favor opening a box and browning some meat to go with it or worse, just nuking some ramen noodles (pitiful!). Also, I think these “quick dinners” are a large part of why our kids are so picky. I grew up feeling hungry while smelling dinner cooking on the stove. It didn’t matter what was cooking – by smelling the aroma and anticipating eating it, we devoured it all! Parents just need to make this a priority. They might need some fresh ideas on how to accomplish all this, but its possible! I think lots of my own family members really don’t get what’s in those brightly colored boxes. Our population just strives to find the easy way out – too often, and its time to get back to basics!
It is also my experience that public school lunches are atrocious — the new district we’ll be entering currently touts whole grains and wholesome foods, but serves glazed donuts (albeit “whole grain” donuts) for breakfast twice a week with a side of chocolate milk. I won’t innundate a simple comment section with the details of the neuroscience, but the links between early (and ongoing) QUALITY nutrition, brain development, and educational outcomes are clear and unmistakable. While it’s easy to point fingers at who should be responsible for fixing the problems and who is deplorable for whatever solution they offer, it doesn’t get us any closer to the goal. This is a problem that affects us all — even those of us who are doing a great job nourishing our children, as Julie alluded to when lamenting who would share her child’s tastes. But my perspective is that wide sweeping change is rarely a success. Sure, things change, but are they for the better? (think medicare prescription drug changes) We usually end up with as many problems, but in a different package. It is up to all of us to model for our children and their peers healthy eating, to demand from our market access to fresh, healthy, wholesome food, and to chip away, one child or family at a time, what healthy really means. We’re moving in that direction — you know health is going mainstream when you see all the organic and wholegrain choices available at Wal-Mart. We must be patient, be gracious, be persistent, and most of all, be healthy.
I’m delighted that you have the time to do this for yourself and your family since you live so close to home. There are a lot of single mothers out there working 2 to 3 jobs just to give their child(ren) the basics, and some aren’t as fortunate as you to live so close to their job. Yes there are some lazy people out there that live close to their jobs and find the excuse not to have a healthy meal to put out when the kids come home, but they are not the many that I speak of.
I, like you grew up with a mother,(grandmother and older aunts) who always had something fresh and wonderful smelling cooking and baking at all times in the morning, afterschool, evening and holidays. Many of us aren’t that fortunate, especially these days. It doesn’t matter at this point to blame them for having too many kids, or have them too young without being married, or having little or no education, that’s beside the point and what’s done …. We can all point fingers. We can’t always know what people’s motives are or what their life is like, we can only go by what we see. Making snap judgements about the many is easy.
I agree with Neuroscience Mommy to a degree. One child and family at a time is a good start, but much more is needed. It is a daunting task, and yes we all must play a great part in making this successful for future generations as much as the present one.
I think those of us who are interested in this whole field of creating a healthy sane food culture, especially for kids, have to take on board that people are busy (wish I could put that in italics!) these days. And that there just aren’t dollars available to make the expensive choices. The irony is that often the easiest, fastest, cheapest food is based on fresh, local, unprocessed produce, and therefore also the healthiest.
I certainly did not mean to step on any toes. Please forgive me if that was the impression I conveyed.
I agree that setting a good example is the best way to move forward. I just get discouraged by all of my peers whose only desire (no matter how much time they have) is to provide quick and easy meals, with no regard to “whats in the box”. Its like they’ve been seriously brainwashed and no amount of new information really makes any difference.
But, setting a good example does work here and there. An example would be that my niece recently got married. Last summer she wanted to join me in canning some salsa. (She is 25 years old). She wanted to learn all about canning and since then she has canned apple pie filling, jellies, and salsa. For her wedding reception, she canned little 4 oz jars of jelly as a take-home favor for the wedding guests! Everyone was shocked because my niece’s mother did not can things. So, she has learned this craft and is very EXCITED about it. Now, her mother wants to learn to can, and so the good news is spreading! She is also anxious to put out a garden next summer. I just think that’s very encouraging (that a younger generation than myself is interested in these things)!
As regards the public schools, in our area we no longer have a certified nutritionist who is heading up the lunch program, but we do have a highly paid football coaching staff and a new million dollar “astro turf” football stadium. Teachers are being let go left and right, but definitely the coaching staff stays! Go figure! I can only speak for the lunch program in our area, but here it seems that by not having a certified nutrionist on board, or in general, just some knowledge of nutrition, that therein lies one of the problems.