There's more than one way to teach a child good nutrition. Last week's column explained how school lunches and school vending machines can emphasize nutritious foods. This week, the focus is on culinary experts - who usually cater to the restaurant industry - teaching children about nutrition.
For more than 18 months, Veggie U, a nonprofit children's program of the Culinary Vegetable Institute of Milan, Ohio, and its parent company, the Chef's Garden in Huron, Ohio, have been working with volunteer educators, nutritionists, and a local physician, Robert Vaschak of Sandusky, to perfect a curriculum that encourages fourth-graders to learn the importance of healthy eating.
The result: teaching segments on healthy soil, composting, and a study of plant parts as well as hands-on activities that include planting vegetables with grow lights and tasting unusual vegetables.
The educational program, which is free to schools, is being taught in Erie and Huron counties. Veggie U is seeking corporate funding to place this earth-to-table program in 150 classrooms by September. It costs $350 per classroom for the supplies, which includes flats, soil, seeds, grow lights, a box of vegetables, and material for a worm farm, according to Barbara Jones of Veggie U.
The team believes that teaching children about the many facets of vegetables - growing, nutrition, cooking - will lead the youngsters to eat more veggies. And increased vegetable consumption will lead to better health and reduced risk for chronic diseases, according to nutritionist Catharine Powers of Medina, who consults with the project.
Top chefs and food professionals from across the country have come to the Chef's Garden and the Culinary Vegetable Institute to teach children how to prepare foods and have fun in the kitchen. On May 11, 50 children from Solon, Ohio, came to the Chef's Garden farm, planted vegetables, and cooked their own lunch with Chef Greg Claus of Huron, Mrs. Jones says, describing a project sponsored by Nestle. Mr. Claus is a culinary instructor for Veggie U.
For more information about Veggie U, contact the Culinary Vegetable Institute at 419-499-7500 or see www.veggieu.org.
Another culinary expert serving healthy lunches to children is Chef Bobo, aka Robert Surles. The French Culinary Institute graduate and private chef for New York Yankees baseball player Derek Jeter is serving menus such as carrot fennel coconut soup, Moroccan lamb stew, bean curd wraps, steamed kale, garlic couscous, and a side of fresh fruit for dessert at New York City's Calhoun School. The kids are devouring it.
He has more than 600 kids asking for rutabaga fries, bean curd wraps, and Parmesan chicken (which comes with Brussels sprouts - and the youngsters do try it). He re-educated the palates of the young eaters. He replaced the nitrates, artificial flavors, preservatives, corn syrup, and high-carb and high-fat canned and processed foods with almost all fresh, made-from-scratch, and boldly flavored soups, entrees, salads, sandwiches, and deliciously prepared vegetables. He banned ketchup, and took away the mayo and most of the sweets, sugary fruit drinks, and snacks.
In Chef Bobo's Good Food Cookbook by Robert W. Surles (Meredith Books, $24.95), the author reveals his ideas about good nutrition, along with recipes for his signature Rutabaga Fries, flounder Fish Sticks, and Mexican Salad.