Union Pleasant fifth-graders Sam Miller, Aidan Bittner and Brooke Weidner sample the healthy chicken wrap. Second row: SOLE Board Members Tricia Miller and Jean Gunner, Chef Steven Binks from Channel 2’s The Healthy Zone, Hamburg Schools Food Service Director Linda Muldoon and Sodexo Executive Chef Pat Koch.
The fifth-graders at Union Pleasant Elementary School were even more enthusiastic than usual as they poured into the cafeteria for lunch last Thursday (March 1). The students were excited to try samples of a whole-wheat chicken wrap — the newest menu item carefully created for the Hamburg School District by professional Chefs Steven Binks and Pat Koch.
The food tasting event was a collaborative effort between the district, Seeds of Living Education Inc. and the American Culinary Federation’s Chefs Move to Schools program.
Under the guidance of Binks and Koch, the school chefs learned how to assemble the meal made out of fresh white chicken, hummus, a whole -wheat wrap, cheese and Frank’s RedHot sauce. The district was thrilled to offer a new nutritious menu item. The students were excited that the healthy wraps taste like chicken wings.
“It’s the best. I love that it tastes cold and fresh,” said fifth-grader Austin Disspain. “I would definitely eat it again.” As Disspain dipped his wrap into a cup of Hidden Valley ranch dressing, he agreed that the new menu item tasted very similar to eating a chicken wing.
“We wanted to make something that the kids could identify with,” said Binks, of WGRZ’s “The Healthy Zone.” “It is all about the kids trying something new that is a healthier alternative.”
Koch, executive chef with Sodexo, said that he and Binks designed the recipe to be “full of lean protein, complex carbohydrates and low in sugar,” in order to provide the students with lasting energy.
Sampling healthy food is a common practice in Hamburg schools, thanks to Seeds Of Living Education, which has a mission of teaching children healthy eating habits through hands-on learning experiences.
“We all as a community have to come together and learn,” said Jean Gunner, SOLE director and co-founder of the non-profit’s Giving Garden.
Among SOLE’s many upcoming projects, Gunner hopes to instill “Fearless Food Fridays” in Hamburg elementary schools, where students would “dare” each other to try a provided sample of a healthy food.
“It’s positive peer pressure,” Gunner said, adding that it is easier to get a child to eat a new food if his or her classmates do the same.
“At first I never thought the kids would embrace (eating raw vegetables), and now we serve them in our lines,” said Linda Muldoon, who has served as food service director for the district for the past 12 years. “SOLE proved to me that it does work, and they pushed us (to provide healthier options) before we were ready to. I give them credit for that.”
Working in the food service industry for over 25 years, Muldoon has witnessed a lot of changes in school cafeterias.
“When I first started, every kid had to have two tablespoons of butter in their meal. It was a requirement,” she said.
As time when on, Muldoon was happy to see a decrease in portion sizes and an increase in the amount of fresh fruits and vegetables offered to students in the lunchroom.
Still, complying with new USDA requirements has not been easy.
“It’s a balancing act with finances,” Muldoon said. “They tell us what to do, but there is no extra money in the budget to accomplish it.” Muldoon added that the healthier meal options are often made with more expensive ingredients.
“The difference between a regular bun versus a whole-wheat bun is 50 percent more expensive,” she said.
“We hope this event raises awareness,” said Gunner, whose goal is to see food in the schools that is nutritious, locally grown and full of flavor.
“Everyone needs to work together to better the children,” Binks said. “After all, they are our future.”