May 21, 2010

New Taste of the UWS Kicks Off with a Healthy Eating/School Lunch Program Roundtable

Remember that sneak-peak we had of the New Taste of the Upper West Side?  Well, the event all happens this weekend and started off today with a passionate panel (with proceeds going towards Wellness in the Schools) discussing school lunch programs and ways to get our children (and ourselves) to eat healthier foods.

Elizabeth Kaledin (NY 1, photo far right) moderated the discussion and started with a startling statistic:  Obesity-related diseases cost NY state over $6 billion dollars a year.  The all-star panel, which featured (photo, l-r) Dr. Joel Fuhrman (Nutritional Medicine Expert), Kate Krader (Food & Wine Magazine), John Fraser (Dovetail), Ellie Krieger (Food Network), Eric Goldstein (School Support Services), Bill Telepan (Telepan), and Steve Cuozzo (NY Post), had a lot to talk about!

Lots of student volunteers (i.e. young budding chefs from Food and Finance and CCAP) were on-hand at the event that was hosted by the American Museum of Natural History.
Sponsors provided a few options for the continental breakfast, but even some of these items (e.g. baked goods) would be called out by panelists Cuozzo and Dr. Fuhrman as "sugary, processed and unhealthy".  Here are the highlights from the hour and a half conversation:
The Department of Education's (DOE) Eric Goldstein talked about some of the current changes made to school lunches today.  Changes included hiring an executive chef and adding whole grain pasta/whole wheat bread to the lunches.  To introduce the changes to the students, they initially replaced the bottom part of hamburger buns with whole wheat bread.  In addition, the 7 million gallons of milk provided to school children have been changed from full fat to fat free or skim milk.  He says that there are also over 500 salad bars in NYC school (vs 1 in LA).  He notes that Breakfast in the Classroom has reduced visits to the school nurse and resulted in calmer kids.

He digressed that they still serve pizza, burgers, and chicken fingers but changing school lunches is an "ongoing journey".  He adds that on average, lunch costs (including food. labor, etc) $2.60/student while the federal government only reimburses $2.32/student.  Chef Telepan added that his Wellness in the Schools program has been working in a handful of schools to create meal templates (that incorporate obstacles like time and resources) that can be launched in more schools.  Teaching the 5 or so school cooks how to prep beforehand will make it easier to quickly feed the students healthy meals.

The panelists advocated getting involved and learning about the upcoming Child Nutrition Reauthorization bill (which allocated funds to school lunches) through the website, NYC Alliance for CNR
Healthy eating, however, has to start/continue at home.  Chef Krieger mentions that kids need to try something new at least 12 times before acceptance.  If we start early and exposing our children to a variety of fresh, flavorful, yet healthy options, they will enjoy them.  She also encourages parents to treat food as an adventure and introducing them to new (natural) colors, aromas, and flavors.  Chef Telepan added that kids do eat salad - it just takes time.  And Dr. Fuhrman notes that the more fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, seeds, and raw nuts you eat when you are young significantly reduces cancer risks in adulthood.
Responding to food trends, Kay Krader mentions that even Mario Batali's new cookbook features vegetables as a main dish and meat on the side.  Chef Fraser noted that he discovered that meat and fat is so much tastier when you don't have all the time.  Upon instituting Meatless Mondays at Dovetail, he also saw an increase in diners.   

Processed foods became a conversation target as Dr. Fuhrman stated that Americans get 60% of the caloric intake from processed foods.  He also noted that Americans eat 30 teaspoons of sugar a day.  Chef Telepan suggested we could, for example, make chili out of fresh produce (like red onions) and use their natural sweetness.  Chef Krieger advocated moderation for foods like cupcakes and cheeseburgers, because saying "never" will make you want it even more. 

As a working mother of 2, moderator Elizabeth Kaledin wanted to know how we find the time to cook for our families.

Chef Telepan responded that we can use the 2-3 hours we find to watch TV on cooking dinner.  Dr. Fuhrman suggested cooking big dishes on Sun and Wed and spread it out for a few days.  
But the best answer came from a student volunteer from CCAP who suggested that "the whole family should get involved.  Have your teenager prep the food so it's ready when you get home from work to cook.  My mom preps the food for me, then I cook it."  She also responded to the DOE's lack of resources issue and suggested they allow student chefs, like herself, to come in to prep for the student lunches.  This will give them experience and provide schools with additional resources at little (if any) costs. 


  1. This is great news... hope someone paid attention

  2. Great experiences for you.... what do you do in "real life" ?

  3. Fascinating read, Andrea - I love the idea that people should use the 2-3 hours they spend watching tv to prep a meal and eat it and the young chef's quote is all too true, that all this should start at home with the whole family involved. Well, education is the first step, right? I hope many people hear this message and take action.

  4. There are some good steps mentioned at the new taste of UWS seminar. I especially like the idea of vegetables being the main course and meat being a side dish. If that is successful it would be a step towards progress on many fronts. Great review!


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