“Thank you for the food!” echoes through the cafeteria at Parkview Baptist School as child after child greets Chef Jeremy Coco on their way through the hand-washing station. Parkview Baptist has recently climbed on board the national movement to revamp school lunches, and it’s clear these kids appreciate a good meal, even at kindergarten age.
Following the trend brought to television by Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution, some Baton Rouge-area schools are doing their part to change the way children eat.
Dr. Collin Wimberly leads the efforts on the church side at Parkview Baptist. He helped urge the school to make changes, because he knows that happier, well-fed kids make better students. “If the kids are happier, if they are well-fed and happy with their meal, it makes for a better day,” Wimberly says. “Their parents are happier, and it has an impact on the church as well.”
For this reason, Wimberly notes, the teachers seem just as excited as the kids about the changing school menus. “On the church side, we are concerned about the kids. We want them to do well, and we have full confidence in Dr. Ezell, the Head Master, that she’s going to do a good job,” Wimberly says. “And she has. It has improved a lot over the past three years.”
The Parkview Baptist School recently brought in Chef Coco, an instructor at the Louisiana Culinary Institute, personal chef and former Chef Partner at Fleming’s Prime Steakhouse in Baton Rouge, to work with the kitchen staff. He sought to make school meals more nutritious and better tasting by incorporating fresh ingredients and more options. The kitchen staff at Parkview Baptist feeds about 1,400 students in two and half hours each school day. It is a tough task, but the ladies in hairnets are always up to the challenge.
I joined Coco at Parkview Baptist School one day to check out the food for myself. The hot lunch for the day was shrimp étouffée, with steamed broccoli, cornbread and bread pudding. Additional options were chicken fettuccini or a salad bar with soups, salad and baked potatoes. I chose the hot lunch and felt just as blown away as the students. It all tasted great! There was no under-seasoned mush or flavorless frozen broccoli. This food had some pizzazz, and it became even more evident as the students took bite after bite of broccoli. Broccoli! Fourth-graders shoveling broccoli into their mouths! Okay, not every student ate the broccoli. However, one kid did come up to me, pointed to his peers’ plates, and said, “I ate his broccoli, and his broccoli, and his broccoli…”
Nancy Crifasi is the Food Service Director at Parkview Baptist. When she began in 2009, she recognized a need for more whole grains and fresh fruits in the students’ diets. The kitchen promptly incorporated wheat flour into rolls and desserts and started putting brown rice in the jambalaya and stand-alone dishes. They also began offering the salad bar every day and added hearty soups and baked potatoes. Coco was hired to be a consultant for the 2010-2011 school year to demonstrate healthy cooking techniques, and he worked as a guest chef several times.
Overall, the students, faculty, administration and parents are clearly pleased with the progress of their school lunch program. In the 2011-2012 school year, Parkview Baptist will add a sandwich bar with plenty of options for less-processed foods and more fruits, vegetables and whole grains. The food revolution has truly been won at this Baton Rouge school.
To read more by Jay D. Ducote, check out his blog at biteandbooze.com.