Chefs Declare Assault on Chicken Nuggets and Other School Lunches

Filed under: Nutrition: Health, In The News, Mealtime

America's public schools have problems, but they're really in for it now.

They just wiped the smile off Rachael Ray's face. This could mean war.

Events turned dangerously un-perky this week as the celebrity chef joined forces with her culinary colleagues and first lady Michelle Obama as they launched a frontal assault on chicken nuggets.

Obama and the chefs are concerned about the state of school lunches, and the problems run a lot deeper than improperly chilled salad forks.

A team of chefs went to D.C. area schools in January and braved the school lunches. Their unanimous conclusion? Yucko!

The Washington Post reports the chefs found most of the food was over processed and loaded with fat. One chef, according to the newspaper, discovered a burrito-like breakfast object with more than 100 ingredients.

There were some salads offered, the Post reports, but guess where most kids put those. Hint: It was not in their stomachs. Most kids, according to the paper, ate pizza.

"What we are feeding our children is an outrage. We should be marching with picket signs and pitchforks in revolution," chef Cathal Armstrong of Restaurant Eve in Alexandria, Va., tells the Post.

The revolution may have started.

This week, chefs rallying around Obama and the latest phase of her "Let's Move" campaign announced a plan. The Post reports they want to gather other culinary experts and pair each of them up with a different school across the land to teach kids about nutrition and eating balanced meals.

They call this operation "Chefs Move to Schools."

Aside from Armstrong and Ray, other chefs involved in the effort reportedly include the Food Network's Cat Cora, Annie Burrell, Aaron Sanchez, Ellie Krieger and Alex Guarnaschelli.

Some of the first family's personal favorites, such as Aquavit's Marcus Samuelsson, who cooked the state dinner honoring India in November, are also involved.

The Post reports Armstrong has already established a nonprofit catering service to create healthy, affordable school meals. Local D.C. chefs Todd Gray and Spike Mendelsohn began teaching cooking classes to hundreds of students and parents and have helped to plant school gardens.

Such efforts face formidable obstacles. Many schools don't have kitchens. Plus, the Post reports, the federal government spends about $2.68 per child per lunch. Freshly made salads -- let alone hand-cut french fries -- often are not an option under those circumstances.

Ann Cooper, the nutrition director of the Boulder Valley School District in Colorado, calls herself "the Renegade Lunch Lady" and tells the Post the chefs may know their way around a souffle, but they don't know beans when it comes to the reality of school lunches.

They can do the most good by educating and inspiring kids to eat healthy food, she says.

"We've grown a generation of children who think chicken nugget is a food group," Cooper tells the paper.

Related: School Lunches Make Kids Fat, But Adding a School Breakfast Counters Effect

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Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.