Cafeteria Man: A vision for food education & student-designed school meals

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school food : cafeteria man

Do you know what your kids are eating? Shouldn’t your kids know what they’re eating?

School meals are a choice for many. But for millions of kids, it’s not a choice. It could even be the only meal they’ll get.

I’ve heard complaints about how gross school lunches have become. Some blame the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act and/or Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move” campaign.

school food chicken pattyIn order to access school meal nutritional information in my son’s school district, a doctor’s note is required! Then you have to physically go to the school to review a humongous binder with the nurse. More than slightly inconvenient. 

Our district contracts with the same school meal conglomerate they were working with before the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act. Their menus have been revamped to meet healthier standards. But is that like (excuse the cliché) trying to fit a square peg into round hole?

Could the reason behind the gross-er school lunches (based on my statistically insignificant hearsay data) be that “old school” food companies know nothing about creating tasty healthy food using whole grains and less sugar/salt? What about exploring other options like school meal companies that actually have a mission of providing real food (I know they’re out there!) instead of cheap food-like products? Of course, a common barrier to change is cost. But what are the long term costs?

Consider this: One out of three children born in the United States in the year 2000 will develop diabetes. One third of children and adolescents in the U.S. are overweight or obese.

What does it take to change? Don’t our children deserve good, nutritional food?

Enter Cafeteria Man.

Proving healthy school meals don’t have to be gross… and can even be meaningful.

Listen to The Green Divas Radio Show interview with Tony Geraci, a man with a vision—THE Cafeteria Man—then read on for more…

Cafeteria Man is a film that chronicles an ambitious effort to “green” the public school diet serving 83,000 students in Baltimore—and later, over 200,000 students in Memphis. Chef Toni Geraci the Cafeteria Man leads the charge to replace pre-plated, processed foods with locally-grown, freshly-prepared meals. Geraci’s bold vision includes school vegetable gardens, student-designed meals, and nutrition education in the classroom.

I just watched this documentary and am inspired… healthy, tasty school meals with enthusiastic student involvement are possible!

Watch this film here now!

Then scroll down to find out what you can do to help create change for your school!

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Cafeteria Man

“All across America, school food is undergoing a major transformation to help reverse the childhood obesity epidemic — but not without opposition and challenges. CAFETERIA MAN provides an inspiring, behind-the-scenes look at what it takes to bring fresher, healthier food to the millions of kids in our nation’s schools. The film follows nationally-recognized chef Tony Geraci as he works to revamp school food programs that feed thousands of students in two big city districts — Baltimore and Memphis. Responding to the pleas of Baltimore students who were fed-up with terrible school lunches, Geraci was hired to replace pre-plated foods with tastier, more nutritious meals. But he didn’t stop there. To help students develop a better appreciation for healthier foods, he also established a model 33 acre teaching farm, brought in more locally sourced produce, and initiated student-designed meals. CAFETERIA MAN shows that it is possible to feed our nation’s students healthier, more nutritious meals, and provides inspiration and ideas to win the fight for better school food.

With appearances by First Lady Michelle Obama, noted food author Michael Pollan, White House Chef Sam Kass. ”

Film synopsis (from the Cafeteria Man website):

It’s a story of positive movement that shows what’s possible in our nation’s schools. It’s about the aspiration of activists and citizens coming together to change the way kids eat at school. It’s about overhauling a dysfunctional nutritional system. And, it’s the story of what it takes, and who it takes, to make solutions happen.

The feature documentary film chronicles an ambitious effort to “green” the public school diet serving 83,000 students in Baltimore—and later, over 200,000 students in Memphis.

Leading the charge to replace pre-plated, processed foods with locally-grown, freshly-prepared meals is Tony Geraci, food-service director for the city’s public schools. A charismatic chef from New Orleans, Geraci’s bold vision includes school vegetable gardens, student-designed meals, and nutrition education in the classroom. His mission is as audacious as it is practical.

“This has never been done before,” affirms Geraci, “but it makes perfect sense.”

The film follows Tony Geraci as a central character, introducing audiences to the dynamic assortment of human ingredients necessary for school food reform efforts to succeed.

Among the protagonists in this story are parents, teachers, administrators, farmers, chefs, and dozens of creative and motivated students. Their collective efforts are proof positive that a ‘village’ is indeed required to transform school food.

Over the course of several years, the film traces efforts to make healthy, nutritious meals available to all the city’s students. Viewers watch as inner city youth plant and harvest vegetables at the school system’s 33-acre teaching farm, now  a national model. They witness what it takes to get local produce on school plates. And they watch as high school seniors develop practical job skills through a new citywide culinary vocational training program. 

 “If Tony makes this happen here the way he wants to, I think you’ll see this happening all over the country.”~ Michael Pollan, author and food activist

Take action!

Join the HealthierUS Schools Challenge.

Sign your school up for Chefs Move to School. Chefs and schools have a unique opportunity to work together to teach kids about food in a fun, appealing way. The Chefs Move to Schools program seeks to utilize the creativity and culinary expertise of chefs to help schools ensure that America’s youngest generation grows up healthy.

Start a farm-to-school program.

Pack a lunch. But still do all you can to get healthy meals in your schools—our nation’s poorest children deserve it!


Listen to the latest Green Divas Foodie-Philes podcast segment:

Conscious Parenting, Featured, GD Ticker, Green Diva Foodie-Philes, Green Divas Foodie-Philes

About the author / 

Green Diva Lynn

Lynn Hasselberger is the former Managing Editor of The Green Divas blog and was a producer of the Green Divas Radio Show. She's also a mom, writer and award-winning cat-herder who lives in Chicagoland. Sunrises, running, yoga, chocolate and comedy are just a few of her fave things.

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