There are dozens if not hundreds of organizations across the U.S. working to improve the quality of cafeteria food at public schools. But one of the best, in my estimation, is New York City's Wellness in the Schools (WITS), founded by Nancy Easton and two other public school parents in 2005. Bill Telepan, chef at the noted Manhattan farm-to-table restaurant Telepan, came on board a few years later when he realized that the kitchen at his daughter's school—like most public school kitchens—relied on packaged and processed foods (the barbeque sauce was made from ketchup and grape jelly--!) Today, WITS is bringing salad bars and healthy, made-from-scratch meals to public schools in the Bronx, Brooklyn, and Manhattan.
WITS has 50-some volunteers—culinary students, nutritionists, or just those who are passionate about making sure kids have access to healthy food—who fan out amongst 35 public schools to help prepare healthy dishes such as homemade pesto on whole-grain pasta or flatbread pizza with homemade tomato sauce and roasted vegetables. (Full disclosure: I was a WITS volunteer several years ago, slicing veggies for a salad bar and making healthy cole slaw and "mediterranean pasta salad" for kids at Brooklyn's P.S. 157.)
Telepan has even gotten celebrity chefs involved. So far, 23 chefs—including Michael Anthony at Gramercy Tavern, David Chang at Momofuko, and Colleen Grapes at Red Cat—have adopted a public school. Over the course of a year, these chefs organize three “Wellness Café Days," using a new recipe and eating the meal alongside students. Some of the dishes that students try on Café Days are so popular that they’ve become WITS staples, such as the veggie salad wrap created by the team at Chop’t.
Still think that kids don't (or won't) eat vegetables or fruit? When it's fresh and plentiful, kids—of all ethnicities and economic backgrounds—can't get enough. I've seen it with my own eyes, and so has every WITS volunteer.
I write about Telepan and Easton in the latest issue of JW Marriott's new magazine. Download Jw marriott article