Meal time might only occupy a small portion of the school day, but for students, it represents something much more. It is a time for students and teachers to re-energize, socialize, and enjoy the food on their plates. Conscious Kitchen is proud to collaborate with WCCUSD on the summer meals program and give students the opportunity to provide feedback, be hands-on in the kitchen, and shape future menus. Taste-testing and daily surveys are powerful research and data-gathering tools to implement more organic produce and healthy scratch-cooked meals into breakfast and lunch menus when school resumes in the fall.
“The summer meals program began with our goal to provide the best food for our students and for them to have fruitful conversations about what they eat.” Judi Shils, Founder and Executive Director of Conscious Kitchen, described that this program began with the opportunity to test back-to-school meals during Camp Achieve. Elementary School Teacher Kelly Cary has been a leader with Camp Achieve for 4 years and is at the heart of the summer meals program, as well as a key Conscious Kitchen liaison. In 2017, she noticed that her young students were eating sugary breakfast items and cold lunches. They were then jumpy and had shorter attention spans during the school day. After contacting Judi, Kelly learned about transitioning from conventional to fresh, local, organic scratch-cooking and the FLOSN philosophy. The successful Conscious Kitchen pilot at her school offered her students freshly cooked FLOSN lunches, a transformed dining hall with fresh flowers, metal trays and colorful posters, and a new feeling of value and community during meal time.
“This program opens the opportunity to spend more on organic food systems and listen to the students,” explained Judi. Kelly and Judi have worked to continue to champion organic access and culinary education through the meals program this summer, made possible with support from Barbara Jellison, Food Service Director of WCCUSD, and a grant for expenses through the Ed Fund. Now, students complete taste-tests and daily surveys about conventional and organic foods. Kelly was happy to share that these types of direct engagement “elevate the kids and they are proud and excited for their input and the future outcomes”.
In addition to taste-tests, students have weekly lesson plans about how food impacts their entire lives, the components of FLOSN, and virtual visits to local farms, such as Frog Hollow Farm with beloved Farmer Al. Recently, Kelly has worked with her students to share meals that celebrate their cultures and recipes that they make during holidays. Not only will preparing these dishes with the class raise students’ awareness of where food comes from, but it will also give them a voice and develop leadership skills. “It’s all about honoring the students; they just want to be heard,” Kelly shared, as she described their excitement about different food lessons.
The future of this collaboration between Conscious Kitchen and WCCUSD lies in organic sourcing and supply chains across the district, central kitchen scratch-cooking of FLOSN recipes, and the Conscious Kitchen Ambassadors program to deepen student learnings. “There is integrity, trust, and community resilience,” Judi noted in talking about the impact of one school district across an entire local food system, including over 35 new organic farmers and vendors. “The future is also in the present, and each day that we are able to integrate another organic item or make another relationship with a supplier is a success.” School food programs should reflect the voices of students; that is a Conscious Kitchen imperative and our greatest hope.