TNCS School Lunch Program Gets a Refresh!

You may have noticed that The New Century School has been cooking up some fun changes for the 2017–2018 school year. One such change is happening in the the kitchen, where two new faces have appeared. With former chef Emma Novashinski* moving on to embark on a new professional chapter, TNCS school lunch has been taken over by veteran TNCS parents Danielle and John Moomau. Kibnesh Anebo, who assisted Chef Emma, now takes on the role of Lead Cook. (Click Garden Tuck Shop and Lunch Goes Global to read about the origins of TNCS school lunch.)

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Team School Lunch: Danielle, left; Kibnesh, middle; John, right.

Their kitchen takeover came to pass over the summer, when TNCS Co-Executive Director and Co-Founder Roberta Faux asked the Moomaus to consider assuming the role of kitchen manager. “At first we thought it would be impossible,” said Mrs. Moomau. “Considering that we operate our own full time food safety training and consulting business, how could we do the job of Chef Emma?” In fact, their proposed role would take a different shape. “Kitchen manager includes creating menus, overseeing production, maintaining regulatory compliance, food safety, inventory, and ordering,” she explained. With Ms. Anebo as Lead Cook and an additional new hire to assist with prep and clean-up coming on board, they realized they could manage. “And the idea of being able to engage more with our daughter, connecting with her classmates, all the teachers, administration, and other parents was appealing as well,” said Mrs. Moomau.

Wth a combined experience of over 50 years in retail food management, the Moomaus were a natural choice. “John and I both put ourselves through college working in the restaurant industry, working every position in the restaurant from dishwasher to bartender, and later working nationally doing multi-unit openings, culinary training, and finally regional operations.” They even met while working in the food-service industry. Mrs. Moomau is originally from New Orleans, and Mr. Moomau is from Silver Spring, MD, but they co-managed a restaurant in Washington, D.C. located at 14th NW and F Streets in 2003.

Then, in 2006, they left the corporate industry to start QRS Training, their own food consulting and training company, which offers classes and certification programs for food and alcohol licenses in the Mid-Atlantic region.

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Kibnesh prepares sesame noodles with faux chicken.

Now, 11 years later, they are bringing all of their expertise to TNCS students! The Moomaus are responsible for all food inventory and ordering of any supplies needed to run a smooth kitchen. They will oversee daily quantity of lunches needed and turn over the production line to head cook Ms. Anebo. Said Mrs. Moomau: “A local and clean path had been taken on by former TNCS Chef Emma and the founders of the school from the beginning when creating the lunch program. We seek to continue this and implement ways to influence the children with more international foods, but foods they will eat because it’s colorful, delicious, and fun.”

Although school lunch has a slightly new “flavor,” by far, most aspects of the program will stay the same. Mrs. Moomau explains:

Chef Emma started the school lunch with a different perspective. Understanding that she had to be compliant with the Maryland State Board of Education, which requires a protein, vegetable, fruit, and grain, she created menu’s that were colorful and different than what traditional school lunch programs offer. Keeping with TNCS’s promise to parents and students to be vegetarian and nut free, she researched and created lunches that offered children a new palette of flavors: soy nuggets that look and taste like chicken nuggets, colorful micro greens, and vegetables that the children planted and cultivated in TNCS’s own school garden. She got the kids excited and involved about the food they were eating. We wouldn’t change that piece of the program. Changes to the menu, however, will come as we get to know the children more and their likes and dislikes. But, whenever we introduce a new menu item, we promise to keep it delicious, healthy, fresh, and fun.

These menu adjustments have already started appearing in the form of food themes corresponding to each day of the week: American Mondays, Latin Tuesdays, Pasta Wednesdays, Asian Thursdays, and the already infamous and popular Pizza Fridays.They are trying new twists within these themes, too, such as avocado and cream cheese sushi rolls. “We don’t want to offer the children food that they don’t like, but we also want them to eat healthy, well-balanced, and low-sugar meals. So, we will continue to offer plenty of fruits and veggies that can be dipped into yogurts, hummus, guacamole. The children love to eat food with their hands, and dips are some of their favorites,” said Mrs. Moomau.

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Keepin’ It Clean and Green!

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Monica is making strawberry-blueberry parfaits.

Other ways that the Moomaus are ensuring continuity with the lunch program include continuing to order from food vendors who supply organic, fresh local produce, whenever possible; non-GMO ingredients; and no artificial coloring. “We’ve been establishing a clear expectation with our food providers that we want ‘clean and green’ food for our school,” they explained.

Of course, with any new venture, adaptations are inevitable. As before, one thing the new kitchen team wants to ensure is that the children they are feeding are eating. “We watch what goes into the trash everyday,” said Mrs. Moomau. “We approach the menu with the children’s perspective first. For example, today was ‘Asian Thursday’ and we offered Sesame Noodles, but our first thought was, the kids probably won’t favor rice noodles, so we’ll make the dish with an American twist and substitute whole-wheat, fat spaghetti noodles. It was a hit!”

Acclimating to the role might have been another challenge, but the Moomaus have found that support from the school administration has enabled them to surmount would-be obstacles:

Ms. Faux is so flexible and understanding that it makes the transitional period a lot less stressful. She has a solution for almost anything. When the founder of the school tells you, ‘don’t worry, if we absolutely have to, we can always order pizza,’ you know it’s going to go very well. And, although the first 3 weeks have had some bumps and learning curves, we’ve managed to get through without having to order pizza delivery!

They had this to say in closing: “We strive to do what’s right for our children and to make decisions that benefit their health.” And, let’s be honest, since kids like simple food and love to eat with their hands, dipping veggies in ranch or tortilla chips in guacamole or bean dip, for example, are not only kid favorites but are packed with vital nutrients.”

*Wondering how Chef Emma’s doing? She, too, has new adventures to share, and Immersed will keep you informed. Here’s a teaser: Emma’s Tea Spot will be opening in Hamilton soon . . .

TNCS Knows Safe Urban Gardening!

The greenhouse is a magical place for TNCS students, full of wonder and possibility.

The greenhouse is a magical place for TNCS students, full of wonder and possibility.

When then-prospective parent Lori Rosman contacted The New Century School this past Spring about enrolling her son in the pre-primary program, one of her first questions was about TNCS’s on-premise greenhouse. “I was excited that TNCS has a garden and is growing some of their own food,” she said. “Our son is very curious about cooking and always asks, ‘what are the ingredients?’ in everything.” Ms. Rosman also happens to be a Public Health Informationist at Johns Hopkins University, where an article about urban gardening had recently circulated. The article warned about some potential health risks of unsafe urban gardening methods, such as using contaminated soil. City soil can contain unsafe lead and asbestos levels, for example, especially in areas where construction or demolition has been going on. Urban gardening can be perfectly safe, but the gardener needs to take certain precautions, which novice gardeners might be unaware of. And the number of urban gardeners in the United States is steadily growing—up 29% in the last 5 years from 7 million to 9 million people, according to the National Gardening Association, so this information comes none too soon.

“I felt an obligation to educate myself,” said Ms. Rosman, so she approached TNCS Admissions Director Robin Munro with her questions. “I appreciated that Robin took my questions seriously and suggested going to talk to Chef Emma [Novashinski] about my concerns.” Chef Emma was well aware of the issue, and, together, the three discussed the safe practices she uses. “It was very reassuring!” said Ms. Rosman.

For obvious reasons, please keep the four-legged friends out of the greenhouse :)!

For obvious reasons, please keep the four-legged friends out of the greenhouse :)!

TNCS Master Gardener and Executive Chef Emma Novashinski was aware of the site’s history, which is the first step for planning an urban garden safe for food-growing, according to a guide by Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future on soil safety. The Center also provides interactive maps of Baltimore food gardens and other resources. As luck would have it, Chef Emma selected the location for TNCS’s greenhouse on the very spot a large community garden had recently occupied. Those savvy gardeners employed regular composting and wood-chipping to keep their soil healthy as well as annually replenished it.

Once it’s clear that the site is probably contaminant free, regular soil testing is the next step to ensure safe food-growing. Naturally, this is also something Chef Emma always knew. “When I first suggested the greenhouse project,” she said, “[TNCS Co-Executive Directors] questioned the safety. We’re feeding children after all. I test lead levels and alkalinity about every 8 months, and the pH is usually neutral and the lead level has always been well below a hazardous level.”

Soil testing

Soil testing

In a case of very good timing, Chef was due to test the soil for the coming 2014–2015 academic year. On Friday, 8/8/14, she reported: “We are sufficient in all levels except nitrogen, so we will be incorporating blood meal [an organic fertilizer] and nitrate of soda into the soil to remedy this nutrient deficiency, which was probably caused by watering and rainfall.” All fine!

Says the Center for a Livable Future’s website:

The potential health, social, environmental, and economic benefits of urban farms and gardens are far-reaching. For example, studies have found associations between urban community gardens and increased access to healthy food, opportunities for exercise, stronger social cohesion in neighborhoods, and higher property values. And like any green space, urban farms and gardens offer essential ecosystem services like moderating temperatures and reducing storm water runoff.

And, TNCS is feeding students hands down the best homemade, locally sourced lunch around as a direct result of the greenhouse and other nearby gardens and farms. So let’s keep this wonderful—and safe when done right—practice going and growing!

Welcome to TNCS’s 2014–2015 academic year, Rosman family, and thanks for suggesting this extremely worthwhile topic for Immersed!