PHILADELPHIA (AP) — It sounds more like a restaurant order than a school lunch menu: baked ziti with a side of roasted fennel salad and, for dessert, cinnamon apple rice pudding.
But that’s one of the meals offered in the cafeteria at People For People Charter School in Philadelphia. And it’s served family-style. Students pass serving dishes around circular tables, where they eat off plates, not cafeteria trays, and use silverware instead of plastic utensils.
People For People is one of four schools participating in the “Eatiquette” program, which was designed by local chef Marc Vetri to provide nutritious, low-cost lunches in a setting that reinforces social niceties and communication skills.
“This is more than just eating healthy,” Vetri said. “This is learning how to interact with each other.”
The chef, owner of the acclaimed Vetri and Osteria restaurants in the city, plans to expand Eatiquette to another half-dozen schools this fall. The move comes as the U.S. Department of Agriculture weighs broad new standards that would impose fat, calorie, sugar and sodium limits on almost all foods sold in schools.
Eatiquette is predicated on the use of fresh ingredients prepared on site. Processed meats are prohibited, and schools follow seasonal menu cycles to ensure there’s no need for canned or frozen produce. The Vetri Foundation For Children donates round tables and chairs to replace traditional rectangular tables and bench seating.
At People For People, where about 80 percent of students qualify for free or reduced-price meals, the staff prepares nearly 540 lunches per day. The meals fully comply with federal school lunch regulations and cost about $1.50 to make, excluding labor.
That’s higher than what the school paid for meals before implementing the Vetri program last year. People For People operations director Andre Williams would not be more specific, but said officials are trying to offset the increase through grants and other means.
“It costs more, but we believe there is a benefit,” Williams said.
Each weekday before lunch, student “table captains” don black chef coats, lay down plastic tablecloths, create place settings, pour water and serve salad. After their peers arrive and eat the first course, captains return to the kitchen to bring back the entree and, later, dessert.
That’s a lot less chaotic than the old way of lining up buffet-style, which often led to pushing and shoving, said seventh-grader Kealani Gambrel. And the meals aren’t bad either, she said after sampling Tuesday’s menu: Romaine lettuce and carrots topped with homemade tomato vinaigrette, roast beef and garlic-roasted potatoes, and an apple for dessert.
“It’s healthier for us to eat,” said Gambrel, noting students now get salads every day. “I think they should add just a little bit of seasoning to the food.”
But many of her peers — even while praising some new dishes like curried chicken — complain that they miss the French fries, pizza, burgers and cheesesteaks they ate last year.
That doesn’t surprise Margo Wootan, a nutrition lobbyist for the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Science in the Public Interest. Schools have a hard time making wholesome food seem appealing because students have grown up in a “junk-food culture,” she said.
“Maybe someday a kids’ meal won’t be synonymous with chicken nuggets, fries and a soft drink,” Wootan said. “But we’re not there yet.”
People For People chef Kirk Holloway acknowledged the new menu — which includes items like barley salad and lemon herb roasted chicken — leans toward an “adult palate.” But he noted students in lower grades are willing to try new things, more than upperclassmen used to eating cheese fries and chicken wings.
Second-grade teacher Marisa Szynal, who sat with some students during a recent lunch, said the benefits of the healthier, family-style meal carry over from the cafeteria to the classroom.
“They’re not as wound up in here, so when we go upstairs (to class) it’s a lot easier to transition,” Szynal said.
Ideally, the benefits will extend even beyond the school. Vetri hopes students will be inspired to replicate their new school lunch experience in their homes and communities, bringing all types of families back to the table to bond.
Too many people forego nourishing, shared meals for the sake of convenience, he said. But taking the extra time is worth it.
“I don’t think you can name anything worthwhile and positive that isn’t more work and more effort,” said Vetri. “The alternative is sitting on the sofa eating a bag of Doritos, watching television.”
Follow Kathy Matheson at www.twitter.com/kmatheson
More Related Stories
- If Alex Pareene was a cable news executive...
- El Salvador court delays ruling on abortion case while woman's life hangs in the balance
- UK officials: Radical Islam behind London attack
- Pa. governor "can't find" any Latinos to work in his administration
- London machete attack could be linked to terrorism
- Conservative group blames military sexual assault on "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" repeal
- Lois Lerner, IRS disaster
- Donald Rumsfeld worried that marriage equality will lead to polygamy
- Experts: Fox News spying scandal a game-changer
- San Francisco Giant Jeremy Affeldt apologizes for homophobic past
- 9-year-old slams Rahm over Chicago schools
- Stockholm riots rage for third day
- Wall Street firm's "Golden Pitchbook" is totally sexist, full of lies
- Must-see morning clip: Toronto's eccentric and allegedly crack-smoking mayor
- Federal court strikes down Arizona abortion ban
- Jodi Arias: I deserve a second chance
- Oklahoma residents return home to pick up the pieces
- Florida man with connection to Tsarnaev killed by FBI
- FBI identifies 5 Benghazi suspects
- Here come the tornado truthers. Already
- Peace Corps to allow gay couples to volunteer together
Featured Slide Shows
The week in 10 picsclose X
- 1 of 11
Lisa Montgomery embraces her nephew Thursday after a tornado tore apart her home in Cleburne, Texas. The twister killed six people and destroyed entire swaths of the North Texas town.
Credit: AP/LM Otero
Jack McMahon, the defense attorney for abortion doctor Kermit Gosnell, speaks outside the Criminal Justice Center in Philadelphia Tuesday. His client was convicted of killing three babies in his clinic, and will serve multiple life sentences.
Credit: AP/Matt Rourke
A photo taken Monday captures Vice President Joe Biden's response to a Milwaukee second-grader's innovative proposal to end America's epidemic of gun violence. This guy!
Credit: AP/Jenny Aicher
Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., flanked by a grouper-eyed Michele Bachmann, addresses the IRS' admission that it targeted Tea Party groups in advance of the 2012 election. In an op-ed for CNN Thursday, the Kentucky senator slammed the president for his faux outrage.
Credit: AP/Molly Riley
Ousted IRS chief Steven Miller is sworn in on Capitol Hill Friday. Miller testified before the House Ways and Means Committee on the extra scrutiny the agency gave conservative groups applying for tax-exempt status.
Credit: AP/J. Scott Applewhite
Attorney General Eric Holder pauses as he testifies on Capitol Hill before the House Judiciary Committee Wednesday. Holder is under fire, among other things, for the Justice Department's gathering of phone records at the Associated Press.
Credit: AP/Carolyn Kaster
O.J. Simpson sits during an evidentiary hearing at Clark County District Court in Las Vegas, Nev., Thursday. Simpson, who is currently serving a nine-to-33-year sentence in state prison for armed robbery and kidnapping, is using a writ of habeas corpus to seek a new trial.
Credit: AP/Las Vegas Review-Journal/Jeff Scheid
Major Tom to ground control: On Sunday astronaut Chris Hadfield recorded the first music video from space, a cover of David Bowie's "Space Oddity."
Credit: AP/NASA/Chris Hadfield
When it rains it pours. President Barack Obama speaks during a news conference Thursday with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, inexplicably inspiring an #umbrellagate Twitter meme.
Credit: AP/Jacquelyn Martin
A smoke plume rises high above a road block at the intersection of County A and Ross Road east of Solon Springs, Wis., Tuesday. No injuries were reported, but the the wildfire caused evacuations across northwestern Wisconsin.
Credit: AP/The Duluth News-Tribune/Clint Austin
Recent Slide Shows
- 1 of 11