visiting chef program inspires kids to eat fresh

Visiting Chef Program Inspires Kids To Eat Fresh

Mon 28 Feb 2011

Story by Kate McClendon

McClendon’s Select is a family-run certified organic farm outside of Phoenix, Arizona that grows over 150 varieties of produce and citrus. We have been working with Chef Charleen Badman of FnB restaurant to supply her restaurant with organic fruits and vegetables from our farm and supporting her work to improve awareness of good fresh food at a local elementary school.

Taylor Jones, the Assistant Principal of Arcadia Neighborhood Learning Center elementary school in Scottsdale, Arizona, is passionate about food, cooking and a fan of FnB restaurant. She has worked to share her enthusiasm and interest in food to the students at her school.

The school has gardens on the campus and their goal has been to help students make the connection between vegetables grown in a garden to those served on a plate. To do this Taylor created a Visiting Chef program with parents to invite local chefs to teach cooking classes to the students and to talk about how the food grown in the garden could be incorporated into dishes.

Last fall, Taylor came into FnB with a sage plant and an invitation for their chef, Charleen Badman to come to the school. Charleen accepted and spent a day teaching third and fourth graders about how to cook with fresh herbs. They made meatballs and then a panna cotta using the lemon verbena she found. She had the students rubbing the leaves in their hands so they could smell its fresh scent.

The class was taught during the students’ lunch hour, and as Charleen was talking about the benefits of fresh produce, she was watching as the children were eating their lunches from the school’s cafeteria.

Everything on their plates was processed food. She was amazed to learn that while the school had gardens, they did not have a salad bar to make salads available. There was a real disconnect between what they were learning and what they were being served.

After teaching the class, Charleen felt like there was so much more that she could do. She returned to the school and talked with Taylor about preparing lunch for all 550 of their K-8 students. She wanted to serve them a meal that was prepared from fresh, local ingredients. Taylor was thrilled at the idea and quickly got behind it.

Charleen worked with local purveyors to supply sausages, chicken, and handmade breads. She asked McClendon’s Select to donate cauliflower, fresh fruit, honey and items for the salad bar. For the menu, she created a kid-friendly “beanie weenie” dish, roasted Jidori chicken and salad options with a lemon vinaigrette dressing. Charleen had three colors of cauliflower, purple, orange and white, roasted together and topped with breadcrumbs and a béchamel sauce.

The school’s small kitchen had no walk-in refrigerator and no burners, which makes fresh food preparation difficult, and is the reason that so little of it is available to the students. Charleen had to utilize the catering license from her restaurant to prepare the food off-site at her restaurant. While her kitchen is used to serving a restaurant that can seat 36 people, she and her staff had to work late into the night to prep and cook for the meal.

Taylor worked with the school district to have a salad bar brought in to serve salad to the students. Charleen’s lunch coincided with the 20th anniversary of the school, and Taylor sent home flyers to make sure that every student, teacher and parent was informed about the upcoming lunch. The anticipation and excitement for this lunch was shared across the campus.

Marsha McClendon and I came from the farm to lend our support to the event and to help serve the students. For over two hours, 550 students from the school passed through the lunch line, including the teachers, administrators and several excited parents who came out of support. As the students passed through the salad bar, there were many who were excited to see purple carrots, tiny crimson gold apples and watermelon radishes. At least ninety percent asked for a salad.

The overall enthusiasm for the lunch was felt throughout the cafeteria. Taylor remarked that students were taking longer to sit and actually enjoy their lunch, rather than race through it to then go out to the playground. Teachers sat and ate with their students and their conversations about cooking and gardening continued into the classrooms after lunch. The kids were content and focused, and Taylor noticed a satisfied calmness overall at the school.

Since then, the lunch has continued to be a topic of conversation. Many of the students wrote to Charleen expressing their gratitude, and noting that she had inspired them to try new things. They have asked her to return, and again, Charleen has a host of ideas that she would like to share with the students going forward, including a lessons on cooking with citrus, infusing olive oils with fresh herbs and preparing spaghetti squash.

About the Author: Kate McClendon works with her husband and in-laws on their family farm, McClendon’s Select, in Peoria, Arizona. Visit Kate’s blog here:


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