Dedicated staff with a commitment to healthy eating make the lunchtime experience delicious
Remember your school cafeteria lunch menu? Fish sticks. Hot dogs. Tater Tots. Mystery meat. Back then, the four food groups were starch, sugar, Velveeta and Jello. Catsup was considered a vegetable. Since children get a third to half of their daily calories at school, lunch is critical for helping reach nutrient goals throughout the day. The Harley School realized this years ago and became the first school in the area to implement a whole-foods lunch menu. The program has become a model for public and independent schools alike.
Harley eliminated candy and soda vending machines—even though it meant a loss of $20,000 in revenue per year. In 2005, the school began to promote an overall philosophy of health and wellness through diet, exercise, and education. A committee was formed to transform the lunch menu. It included students, teachers, administrators, the school nurse, and the directors of food services at the time, Vicki Pasternak and Suzanne Smith. Although Suzanne is now retired, Vicki continues the good work.
Today, many items are made from scratch with the freshest ingredients (including from our micro-farm and gardens). The menu consists of whole-grain breads and pasta, fresh vegetables and fruits, 100% fruit juices, low-fat milk, brown rice, yogurt, homemade soups. Fruit is always available for snacks—and desserts are served only twice a week.
Just as important as our commitment to our fresh foods is the dedicated staff who makes everything. Roxel is the salad bar whiz who creates tasty, special salads as well as running an amazing salad bar with over 30 items such as: black beans, tofu, a plethora of fresh vegetables, granola, yogurt, and fresh turkey, ham, tuna, and egg salad daily.
Sue is our cook as well as our soup specialist. She creates awesome and unique soups inspired by cookbooks and Food Network sites to come up with new ideas that are well received by both students and adults. A few of her recent hits include: borscht, ribollita, peperonata, escarole bean, Mediterranean quinoa, pumpkin black bean, Indian-spiced chickpea, and fire-roasted tomato.
Harley’s cooks are able to use fresh ingredients and make a wide variety of dishes. Making so much from scratch is time-consuming for our kitchen staff. With more than 30 items, the salad bar can take up to four hours to prep. For the popular grilled veggies— washing, slicing, and roasting vegetables can take all morning. But the cooking staff wouldn’t have it any other way, because they get to be creative with their culinary skills.
“We’re always trying something new, we encourage students and adults to bring in a favorite recipe and we see how we can incorporate it into the menu,” Vicki says. “We try things in small batches first, to see what’s going to be a hit with the kids.
There are still the perennial favorites: the taco bar, spaghetti and meatballs, and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches—but in whole-wheat, low-fat versions. Even in a relatively small school, it takes 70 pounds of pasta for one meal. And the traditional dinner before Winter break takes 200 pounds of turkey!
Cost is also a factor. Buying fresh produce and whole foods is a lot more expensive than a case of reconstituted macaroni and cheese from the government.
Vicki says, “Our vendors help a lot. They go above and beyond to get us what we need. We use Palmers Foods and Dipaolo Bakery (both local). Our dairy items are also local—from Upstate dairy. We have continued our partnership with Headwater Food Hub which offers us access to 70+ sustainable NY farmers and producers. They have expanded their options quite a bit and we are excited to try more from them. We love trying new and kid-friendly recipes, and we are working with Lisa Barker, Harley’s Food and Farm Coordinator, to increase what we grow here that we can use.”
Vicki says, “Someone asked me once how many kids do you have? I said ‘515’! We are committed to providing the the healthiest, most well balanced lunch and meeting the demands of special dietary needs daily. I have the best team that produces an amazing lunch each day! As one student told me, ‘It’s like fine dining.You never go away hungry!’”
PUMPKIN AND BLACK BEAN SOUP
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, 1 turn of the pan
1 medium onion, finely chopped
3 cups canned or packaged vegetable broth, found on soup aisle
1 can (14-1/2 ounces) diced tomatoes in juice
1 can (15 ounces) black beans, drained
2 cans (15 ounces) pumpkin puree (often found on the baking aisle)
1 cup heavy cream
1 tablespoon curry powder, 1 palm full
1-1/2 teaspoons ground cumin, 1/2 palm full
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper; eyeball it in the palm of your hand
20 blades fresh chives, chopped or snipped, for garnish
Heat a soup pot over medium heat. Add oil. When oil is hot, add onion.
Saute onions 5 minutes. Add broth, tomatoes, black beans and pumpkin
puree. Stir to combine ingredients and bring soup to a boil. Reduce heat to medium
low and stir in cream, curry, cumin, cayenne and salt, to taste.
Simmer 5 minutes; adjust seasonings and serve garnished with chopped chives.
Wheat Berry Salad
3 pack of wheat berries
1 carrot, chopped
1 red pepper, chopped
2 cups of dried cranberries
To taste: balsamic vinegar, salt, pepper
Black Bean Corn Fiesta Salad
1 can black beans
1 bag of corn
1 red onion, chopped
1 red pepper, chopped
2 T. cilantro
4 tsp. of red wine vinegar
2-4 T. olive oil (enough to coat)
To taste: kosher salt, pepper