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Chefs Cook Up Ideas for Healthy School Lunches

July 4, 2011 at 12:00 AM EDT
A pair of chefs has stepped out of their kitchens and into school cafeterias to lend their services in hopes of crafting healthier menus for school lunches. Betty Ann Bowser has this encore report.

GWEN IFILL: Next, an encore look at a pair of chefs who want to change what kids eat. It’s all part of a growing effort to tackle the problem of childhood obesity in schools.

NewsHour health correspondent Betty Ann Bowser has this report on a boot camp for public school cooks in Colorado.

ANDREA MARTIN, Cook For America: We talked about the mother sauces yesterday. Hollandaise, what does Hollandaise go over?

Andrea Martin knows her way around a hollandaise sauce.

KATE ADAMICK, Cook For America: What happens is called blooming. The salt flavor gets bigger and bigger and bigger.

BETTY ANN BOWSER: And Kate Adamick knows the subtleties of spices. Between the two of them, Chef Andrea and Chef Kate have cooked their way through enough cocovan and beef Wellington to merit their own show on the Food Network.

KATE ADAMICK: Where does salt come from?

BETTY ANN BOWSER: But, these days, the two classically trained chefs from New York City have chosen a far more mundane place to showcase their talents. They’re taking their culinary knowledge on the road to the public school lunchrooms of America and the people who prepare food for the kids who eat there. And here’s one of the reasons why.

KATE ADAMICK: The Centers for Disease Control says that one-third to one-half of our children born since the year 2000 will acquire type 2 diabetes in their lifetime, because the Centers for Disease Control says that this is the first generation in American history to have a shorter life expectancy than their parents, because of diet-related illness.

BETTY ANN BOWSER: Adamick and Martin ran a boot camp for chefs at Rangeview High School in Aurora, Colorado, just outside of Denver.

It was just one of a series put on around the state sponsored in part by the Colorado Department of Health and the Colorado Health Foundation. The goal? Improve the nutrition in public school lunchrooms.

The Centers for Disease Control say the Mile High State is the leanest in the country. But recent studies have shown that, even here in healthy Colorado, obesity is a growing problem among black and Hispanic children.

Eric Aakko is in charge of nutrition programs for the state health department.

ERIC AAKKO, Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment: When are you looking at all of the data, such as poverty, and lack of access to fresh fruits vegetables, lack of access to outdoor recreation and parks and that sort of thing, we have rates that are just as bad as some parts of the South.

BETTY ANN BOWSER: Many Aurora schoolchildren come from poor families, whose income is so low they qualify for the federal free breakfast and lunch program. That means two of their meals each day are eaten at school.

ANDREA MARTIN: Pan frying, we’re talking about the fat coming halfway up the item. Are these techniques that we are going to be thinking about for our schools?


ANDREA MARTIN: Absolutely not. We don’t do this in our schools.

BETTY ANN BOWSER: Boot camp chefs are taught to stay away from deep-frying and processed foods. The emphasis here is on cooking fresh food from scratch. Recipes include those for yellow squash, cauliflower and lentils.

KATE ADAMICK: The issue is not that kids won’t eat it. The issue is the adults think the kids won’t eat it. And it is almost universal that we see the kids really do eat it.

BETTY ANN BOWSER: So, are these kid goes to eat squash, cauliflower, lentils?

LISA SAMUEL, school cook: I think it is the idea of just basically exposing them to it.

BETTY ANN BOWSER: Lisa Samuel cooks for kids in an Aurora elementary school. She’s big on one of the boot camp’s important concepts. It’s called stealth health.

LISA SAMUEL: We have learn how to disguise some of the fruits and the vegetables in the food.

BETTY ANN BOWSER: What is the best trick you learned?

LISA SAMUEL: How to make a spaghetti sauce and put carrots and celery and onions and zucchini, and we blend it up, and it is still fabulous red sauce.

ANDREA MARTIN: Why is it important to have the language of the kitchen in your lives?

BETTY ANN BOWSER: The boot camp chefs also get instruction similar to what is taught in top professional cooking schools.

ANDREA MARTIN: We use a lot of culinary language. We move into knife skills. We give them French terms, to understand what they are actually doing. We do basic cooking techniques with them. We put them in their chef whites. We had kids walk by the classroom the other day. And they said, “Oh, look at all the chefs in the room.”

So, we start to give them a sense of identity.

BETTY ANN BOWSER: And a school cook for 26 years, Janice Adams has watched with alarm as her students’ waistlines have expanded. Now she wants to bring a sea change to her lunchroom.

JANICE ADAMS, school cook: We have to be careful about what we are putting in our bodies and what the kids are getting in their bodies. These are the kids that are going to have to take care of us some day. And if we don’t watch what we are putting into them, how can they take care of us?

BETTY ANN BOWSER: Shannon Soloman, who just lost over 100 pounds, is also the mother of five children and inspired after her week at boot camp.

SHANNON SOLOMAN, school cook: I feel very empowered. I want to bring my education to the kids. That is where my heart, that’s where my passion is. I want to bring the education. Five-star restaurants are great. And I love — I love the chef learning I had right now. But impacting the lives of our children and bringing that to our school district, it’s the most important thing to me right now in my life.

KATE ADAMICK: Shannon Soloman.


BETTY ANN BOWSER: Graduation day. Each new chef left with a framed diploma and a whole new framework for school food. And now, they might just have a chance to make lentils and cauliflower staples on the lunchroom menu.