“You know you can eat those, right?” Michael quipped, referring to the edible centerpieces from Teena’s Pride Farm decorating Riverside Elementary’s cafeteria tables yesterday. The room erupted in excitement, as 120 fifth graders tried whole, raw baby patty pan squashes, chives, sungold and colorful grape tomatoes, basil, flat leaf parsley, cucumber, whole heirloom tomatoes, and bell peppers while they patiently waited their turn to join Michael and chef Michelle Bernstein for a lesson in how to build a tasty healthy salad from their brand new salad bar.
First Lady Michelle Obama, radiant in a tangerine pant suit, lovingly addressed the wide-eyed bunch to announce that they were the first school in the country to get one; 6,000 units will be donated to school cafeterias across the country as part of the Salad Bars Move to Schools program. Mrs. Obama’s Let’s Move! initiative fights childhood obesity, and includes efforts like this that promote increased availability of fresh fruits and vegetables in school meals, school gardens, and community partnerships.
White House Chef and Senior Policy Advisor on Food and Nutrition Initiatives Sam Kass, leading the Chefs Move to Schools program, called on his participating local chefs to teach the students how to make the best of their new salad bar. Michael and Michelle charmed the room with fun, easy-to-digest tips that they put to use as chefs every day, both at work in their restaurants and at home. Kris Wessel, Frank Gianetti, and Ken Lyon, local chefs who participate in Miami-Dade Public Schools’ Chefs Partnership program were also on-hand.
Salad bars are a huge win for schools and will enable those that grow their own produce in edible gardens on-site (like Riverside in Little Havana and Phillis Wheatley in Overtown, Michael’s partner school in Chefs Move to Schools) to have a convenient platform for integrating these fresh veggies and fruits into cafeteria meals. Other schools that may not yet have gardens but get fresh product from different sources and school system programs can also benefit from salad bars. They’re very expensive — as is fresh produce — so programs like this are essential to make positive changes a reality. Grant funding for the salad bar units comes from the National Fruit and Vegetable Alliance, The Lunch Box, and United Fresh Produce Association Foundation. To apply for a grant or donate, visit the Let’s Move Salad Bars to Schools website.
Miami-Dade Public Schools Administrative Director of Food and Nutrition Penny Parham also announced yesterday some exciting news for our school system; they will enter the USDA’s HealthierUS School challenge.
All product in the salad bar was from local farms, but had to also be realistic as to what the school system could stock in the future. Chef Michael brought what he foraged at Teena’s Pride Farm in Homestead — red, yellow, and green bell peppers, cucumbers, zucchini, arugula, broccoli, heirloom and grape tomatoes, baby patty pan squashes, chives, parsley, and the most fragrant basil you can imagine. Michelle brought with her couscous, carrots, chickpeas, soy ginger dressing, green dressing, celery, grapes, melons, oranges, and grated parmesan… pita chips too, for a healthy crunch!
Miami-Dade Schools’ Carol Chong, Director of Food and Menu for the Food and Nutrition Department and Susan Rothstein, Nutritional Wellness Coordinator, sourced local produce from Pero Family Farms in Delray Beach and RC Hatton Farms in Pahokee including green beans and bell peppers. They also provided yummy fixins like crumbled feta, olives, sunflower seeds, romaine lettuce and spring mix, black bean and fresh corn salsa, balsamic and raspberry vinaigrettes, and Italian dressing.
Introduced by Mrs. Obama herself, Michael and Michelle called up two students, Amanda and Daniel (chosen for their great grades!), to help them design a healthy salad to their liking. The chefs threw in many good pointers and made jokes; everyone loved them. Michelle made Amanda a salad that started with Italian dressing, per her request… She wanted lettuce, carrots, cucumbers, tomato, sunflower seeds, and squash… Daniel was a little more reluctant, but made an effort to fill his plate with one piece of every item in the salad bar. As the First Lady reiterated, it’s on the students to be open to trying something new. Michael was proud of Daniel, even if he didn’t eat his vegetables.
Sam Kass went around to each teacher-manned table, one by one, to let the kids come up to make salad with the chefs. The cafeteria was abuzz as the First Lady worked the room and spent time with each table, talking to the kids. Suffice to say that Mrs. Obama exited the cafeteria to a roar from the kids. They didn’t want her to leave, and we must admit… neither did we!
If you think we’re letting Sam Kass off the hook on his invitation to visit the White House, you have another thing coming! Next stop, D.C.
For our memorable day in pictures, visit our Flicker set.