The students at Total Child Preschool and Childcare Center in
Evanston probably grimace at a few of the items found on their
Yet they try it nevertheless.
"We serve family-style meals, where everyone is given a little
bit of everything," explains Beth Ruppe, director of Total Child
Preschool and Childcare Center. "It's really important for students
to try things numerous times. Just because they didn't like
something three months ago doesn't mean they won't like it
As complicated as a child's palate can often be, it's imperative
that a diverse combination of food is offered. While this task was
once solely parents' responsibility, more and more schools are
realizing the importance of their own school meal programs.
"A typical lunch for our students includes raw green pepper
strips, brown rice and baked chicken with cantaloupe cubes for
snack," says Heidi Dellibovi, co-director of Creative World
Montessori School in La Grange. "Low glycemic carbohydrates such as
brown rice or wheat bread give children steady energy throughout
the day and helps avoid those dreaded meltdowns."
But in a world where food allergies and food restrictions run
rampant, the responsibility of providing students with a good and
nutritious meal can be challenging.
"The parents are able to see the menu at the beginning of the
week, so they know what their child is eating," adds Dellibovi, who
notes that favorite meals for her students include cheese
quesadillas with salsa and tacos with black beans and cheese. "We
monitor whether a food choice is not being eaten and alter it as
needed and rotate the menu every three weeks, which keeps the menu
Just last year, students at Saints Peter & Paul Catholic
School in Naperville were introduced to a number of menu changes
that better incorporate healthier food choices into their
day. Their weekly hot meals now include a main entrée, a vegetable
and a fruit serving with a small dessert.
"Our main goal was to provide better quality food and healthier
food choices, but also keep in mind that since we only offer it one
day a week, we wanted it to be 'fun' food choices for them,"
explains Teri Nawara, who chaired the new and improved hot lunch
program alongside Christine Brouch. "We did several taste testings
with a pilot group of students to test many variations of 'healthy'
to find the right mix for the program."
While offering nutritious options might begin the process, many
schools often find themselves combating some of the bad habits
their students learned at home. "Dessert does not have to be a cake
or a cookie and a doughnut on the way to school is not the best of
breakfasts," says Ruppe, whose school uses the services of
organic-based provider Gourmet Gorilla.
"We want to give our students a solid base of food while they
are here at school, which is why we are devoted to proving quality
food that meets all of the nutritional guidelines. When children
eat better, they will function better during the rest of the
Perhaps Morgan Park Academy has one of the unique programs in
the area. The school regularly partners with nearby Country House
restaurant to offer Morgan Park Academy students, faculty, and
staff a varied, healthy, and nutritious diet on a daily basis.
Making frequent use of produce grown right in Morgan Park Academy's
campus garden, Country House only offers high quality, freshly made
food such as roasted chicken, pizza from scratch, and homemade
salads and dressings. It omits the usual fatty, premade
Other schools are trying out many options.
Recently St. Stanislaus Kostka School partnered with nearby
DePaul University for a community garden, with the hopes that it
would eventually be able to support the school's on-site meal
program. On what was once a forgotten piece of concrete next to the
school playground, four gardens were planted with a variety of
vegetables for salads and impromptu snack times by the students.
Principal Marjorie Hill said she hopes to increase the number of
garden plots so that enough veggies could be grown for school
At Chicago Waldorf School, students eat their lunch from home or
from the school's organic lunch program with their teachers in the
comfort of their own classroom. It doesn't allow candy bars or soda
in the meals.
"It's a positive type of peer pressure. The Chicago Waldorf
School tends to attract families who already have a high level of
"nutritional intelligence." The culture of the school and its
emphasis on developing healthy life habits encourage kids to make
appropriate food choices," says Anderson, a parent and a developer
of the new hot lunch program.
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