Chicken and spinach quesadillas, gazpacho, fresh mango slices, tossed salad greens with herb vinaigrette, and low fat one percent milk or skim milk is one of the many food and drink options for students participating in the Vetri Foundation for Children “Eatiquette” program.
The goal of the program is to provide kids, not only with fresh, nutritious food, but also with the social education that comes from sharing good food. The lunch room doubles as a classroom where children learn the benefits of good nutrition, etiquette, team work and respect.
“We inaugurated the program in 2010 at the ESF Dream Camp that was held at Girard College during the summer,” said director of the Vetri Foundation for Children Kelly Herrenkohl. “The director their asked if we could help improve the lunch that the kids were receiving at camp. We worked with the current food provider to bring a healthy, made from scratch menu. The food was then served in a family style environment. We’ve been doing this at the camp ever since and we’ve been implementing this in our partner schools since the spring of 2012.”
Founded in 2008 by acclaimed chef Marc Vetri and restaurateur Jeff Benjamin, the Vetri Foundation for Children works to help kids experience the connection between healthy eating and healthy living.
Eatiquette prepares family style meals with fresh ingredients on site. Processed meats are prohibited, and schools follow seasonal menu cycles to ensure there’s no need for canned or frozen produce.
The Vetri Foundation for Children donates round tables and chairs to replace traditional rectangular tables and bench seating. Students pass serving dishes around the tables, where they eat off plates, not cafeteria trays, and use silverware instead of plastic utensils.
Each weekday before lunch, student “table captains” don chef coats, lay down plastic tablecloths, create place settings, pour water and serve salad. After their peers arrive and eat the first course, captains return to the kitchen to bring back the entree and, later, dessert.
“This is a great opportunity for kids to try foods that they might not be familiar with in a fun and engaging setting,” Herrenkohl said. “Kids are more likely to try other foods when they see other kids trying that same food. The schools are in a unique position because their offering their students the opportunity to try new things as well as showing them how to eat healthy.
“Our goal for this program is to promote healthy eating as well as show kids the importance of taking care of your body through good nutrition. We’re doing this through a fun and innovative way and we’re hoping that the kids will not only continue to incorporate healthy eating in their lives, but that they will also share that information with their own families.”
Twenty area schools will be participating in the Independence Blue Cross Foundation’s Healthy Futures initiative over the next several years, starting with five this fall. Healthy Futures is IBC’s new, innovative, three-pronged approach to improving child wellness and decreasing obesity among school-aged children in our region.
Each partner school will begin a wellness program next month that combines fitness and nutrition at a level of intensity that organizers hope will lead to lasting changes as the children grow into adulthood.
As a Healthy Futures partner, the Vetri Foundation will be cooking healthy, family-style meals for Global Leadership Academy, (West Philadelphia), William H. Zeigler Elementary School, (Frankford), Assumption BVM School (West Grove), and Park Lane Elementary School (Darby).
“The partnership with Independence Blue Cross Foundation’s Healthy Futures is very unique because not only are we incorporating a nutrition program, but also a fitness program,” Herrenkohl said. “Through this project, we are really offering kids the ultimate all-around wellness program. Even though fitness is added to this particular program, our criteria for partner schools has stayed the same.
“We look for three things when we look for partners schools including enthusiastic leaders at the school, the schools has to have kitchens because we are preparing food on site, and financial commitment. The food does cost more; the cost is 20 cents more per kid per day. Our partner schools agree to make up that difference.
“We provide the schools with the start-up material. We provide one of our program coordinator, who is a chef, to come in and help the school’s current staff implement the program. They are teaching the staff how to prepare menus, how to prepare the fresh food for the students, and organizing. It truly is a collaborative effort to ensure that the kids receive the best overall health experience. We will continue to provide healthy meals for students in the area”