I love when friends from years past resurface and are doing something just incredible. When I studied abroad in Barcelona in 2005, I met a lovely woman named Flora. To me Flora came from a background that I could not imagine – she grew up in New York City and went to a progressive high school on the Upper West Side and studied at a small liberal arts school in Vermont. I was this mid-western girl from Pittsburgh attending one of the largest universities in America and could only dream of one day living in New York!
Flora’s free and independent spirit is what drew me to her in the first place and while we fell out of close touch over the past few years, the social world kept us caught up on each other’s lives. I knew she had a beautiful wedding on Martha’s Vineyard (doesn’t that just sound lovely?!) and she knew that I’d moved to Paris and started campaigning for kale. And to bring it closer to home, Flora and her husband honeymooned in Paris and Provence!
What I didn’t know is that she is working for a school lunch company called Butter Beans, that works to bring healthy food and food education to growing bodies and minds.
Flora & Butter Beans NYC
How did Butter Beans get started?
Butter Beans is the brainchild of two Brooklyn moms, Belinda DiGiambattista and Felicia Desrosiers. Belinda brought her business background and Felicia brought her education background to start a company that serves homemade school lunches and also teaches cooking and nutrition classes to students, along with operating a farm-to-table food & garden summer camp. They started Butter Beans after learning more about the alarming childhood obesity statistics and the state of school lunches. From hand delivering individual packed lunches about 5 years ago, to operating in 14 schools serving 2,000 lunches a day, Butter Beans has blossomed!
How are the “greens” received by the kids in the program?
There are some children that live for greens and others that don’t. We come across a wide spectrum of adventurous to picky eaters at our schools. Out of all green vegetables that we serve, steamed broccoli, steamed peas and steamed green beans are the most popular. When it comes to leafy greens, of course our sesame kale salad *stay tuned for the recipe on Monday!* takes the cake every time. We receive feedback from our parents asking us for recipes, and they share with us their amazement when their children ask them to buy kale and other foods they never thought their kids would eat.
Was it a no-brainer to introduce kale?
Yes. Kale is one of the most nutrient dense vegetables around and we knew that if we marketed kale to our students they would end up enjoying it. And what better way to get kids excited than to mix up fresh kale with sesame dressing? The dressing masks any bitterness the kale may have.
In Butter Beans cafeteria’s we create table tops that feature information on seasonal vegetables and a cooking technique for our kids to read while eating lunch. We had created a table top on kale so that it coincided with our kale lunch offerings, which we believe helped generate a kale buzz in the cafeteria.
Another reason why adding kale to our menu was a no-brainer is because of our sample cups and our fantastic food service staff. For the children who passed up the kale or any vegetable at lunch, our staff is trained to pass out sample cups of the overlooked menu item to the kids while they are eating their lunch. These sample cups work wonders and I suggest parents get a hold of some to use at home too!
How are American school lunches evolving for the better?
School lunch has seen much improvement since the passing of the Healthy Hunger Free Kids Act of 2010, but without it’s hiccups (for the first time in 15 years the USDA overhauled school lunch guidelines).
The new guidelines address the following: designating calorie caps, regulating saturated fats, decreasing sodium, only offering low fat milk, calling for more whole grains, requiring dark green, orange or red vegetables at least once a week, and student have to choose at least one fruit or vegetable at every meal. All of this to say, will they eat the healthier foods?
After the first few months of the new guidelines many children weren’t happy with the new changes. In turn the guidelines have changed to allow more grains and meat, and there have been many critiques on the new guidelines. The USDA is now targeting vending machines, creating rules for what snacks can be offered in schools. They are also investigating Greek Yogurt as a protein/meat alternative at lunch. We have come a long way, but there is certainly much more work to be done!
Who else is out there making a difference with school lunches and/or overall school nutrition?
Yes, there are plenty! Chef Ann Cooper – Food Family Farming Foundation, Food Corps, Slow Food USA, Just Food, Wellness In The Schools, Health Corps, NY Coalition for Healthy School Food, Action for Healthy Kids, The Sylvia Center, The Edible Schoolyard Project, Center for Science in the Public Interest, Food Fight, Veggiecation among many others!
Thank you Flora! What has been done in your community and/or school to improve kid’s eating habits and nutrition?