For the 2015–2016 school year, Chef Emma Novashinski débuted some new features in her popular Garden Tuck Shop school lunch at The New Century School. Parents may have noticed a distinct around-the-world theme in Chef Emma’s latest menus, a motif she says was inspired by the school’s overall approach, ethics, and diversity. “We’re a multilingual school, so I naturally went with Spanish and Chinese dishes. The British lunch is a nod to me, and the other cuisines were chosen from parent suggestions that I thought would be most familiar to everybody. When I thought about what children eat, things like pizza and hummus came to mind, so why not expand these into themed menus?” There are also a few American-style lunches, like grilled cheese and tomato soup, because these are perennial favorites. When she analyzed what among her meals got the best reception, clear patterns emerged, and they reflect the diversity of the TNCS community.
The program has evolved a bit from its origins as a locally sourced, largely organic vegetarian lunch. It was the “locally sourced” aspect in particular that posed some challenges. Because local growers have to respond to and adapt to certain conditions, like weather, Chef Emma frequently found herself having to make substitutions to her planned menus on the fly in order to maintain high quality and consistency. Although she was certainly adept at doing so, kids crave a certain level of predictability, especially when it comes to food. Although some divergence does occur within the new program, such variables now exist among a pre-defined set.
The lunch program now encompasses 10 menus inspired by a particular cuisine that cycle every 2 weeks, which also helps kids—and parents—know what to expect. “This way the kids get repetition. They know when [for example] it’s ‘Pizza Tuesday.’ They’ll get used to the food and maybe even request it at home.”
Besides affording familiarity, the revamped lunch program confers two other great new benefits. One is the ability to provide the nutritional information of each item on a given menu, something that was not possible formerly, given the “x factors” inherent in buying primarily locally sourced products. The other is that Chef Emma has shared her recipes so that parents can replicate the menus at home when kids ask for “nuggets like we get at school,” for example. Menus, nutritional information, and recipes can be seen in the slide show below and will soon also be available on TNCS’s website.
Around about the time of the winter solstice, Chef will shift to an emphasis on hot lunches with more carbohydrates, as befits the body’s needs in winter. The global theme will continue with dishes such as chili and pasta. The greenhouse will also remain a constant in terms of both resources and student participation. “We’re going to have raised beds, each bed allocated to a different crop that we can use in our lunches. Each class will take a crop from seed through harvest,” said Chef Emma.
And how is it going so far? “I think the kids feel more comfortable when things are familiar. This program still challenges them appropriately, but they like structure. So I think the reception is going to get better and better.”