The biggest news stories coming out of the Baltimore City public school system this year haven’t been about student achievements or failures, but rather about the food they’re consuming at lunch. Tony Geraci, dubbed the mastermind of the new lunch menu, has transformed the school cafeterias from frozen french fry halls into healthier, local farm supporting, establishments. Coming from his last job in New Hampshire, Geraci has made immediate impact in schools throughout the city.
Many students in the city from low income families are not exposed to a wide variety of food options at home; the steps being taken at schools are important for the culturing and general health of the kids. “The city’s schools have Maryland’s highest rate of overweight children and teens enrolled, mainly because most live in poverty and don’t have healthy eating habits. I just had two first-graders tell me that they had never had a fresh peach,” Geraci said. “And that’s my point. Kids need to know what real food is. He is committed to changing what he views as a “broken system” and increasing the knowledge and well being of the city’s students, “What these kids know about food is what corporate America has taught them. I think it’s unrealistic to expect an educator to execute their lesson plan if the kid sitting in front of them is jacked up on Lucky Charms, or worse, no food at all. This is about reeducation.”
Many simple changes have fueled the changes being seen in the city’s school, “Gone are the days of rubbery chicken nuggets and fries. In their place the chef plans to offer roasted poultry and baked herbed potatoes. Pizza will now be made with whole-grain crust, and each slice will come with a garden salad and fresh fruit. It’s all in keeping with strict USDA guidelines for school lunches, Geraci says. For instance, he explains that government cheese will be used to make dipping sauce for fresh broccoli spears, rather than goopy macaroni and cheese.”
Incentive programs have helped to encourage students to try new foods, “Geraci asks students to help design menus or create music playlists that match the ethnic theme of a menu. In elementary schools, cafeterias are offering ‘no-thank-you bites.’ At the end of each line is a tray of sample cups filled with, say, zucchini or beans, foods children might not be familiar with or inclined to like. If they try and don’t like them, they just say, ‘No thank you.’ If they do like them, they’ve broadened their palates. For each bite students taste, they get a star next to their name. At the end of the month, cafeterias hold ‘constellation parties’ to honor the winners.”
One particular initiative has gained much attention, including being lauded by PETA. The new “Meatless Monday” lunches at BCPS are a great step in the right direction for the students. They are exposed to alternative sources of protein and other nutrients most commonly found in meat. They are also shown a variety of filling vegetarian options, something many would not be accustomed to at home.
Mr. Geraci has come to the Baltimore City school system with a clear mission and appears ready and able to see his vision through. Now students will hopefully be learning outside of the classroom as well and take some of their new knowledge away from school with them to improve the well being of their families as well.
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