Early this year, Mayor Bill de Blasio and Schools Chancellor Richard A. Carranza announced the first 50 schools accepted to the Bronx Plan, which was launched last year. Over the next three years, the Bronx Plan will support 180 historically underserved schools citywide. As part of the Bronx Plan, each department was asked to innovate and devise solutions to improve student outcomes.
Doing their part, the Office of Food and Nutrition Services (OFNS) developed a collaborative menu (with recipes from the Alternative and Scratch Menus) that will also feature International Week recipes (Asian, Mediterranean and Latin). And, here’s where we come in – Wellness in the Schools was invited by the leadership at OFNS to provide CookCamp training to all 50 schools. This invitation is symbolic of the growth of our partnership with OFNS over the past 15 years, and how we now seamlessly develop and implement programming in tandem. “We truly appreciate the partnership with Wellness in the Schools,” says Christopher Tricarico, Senior Executive Director, Office of Food and Nutrition Services. “We are excited about the work and look forward to continuing the collaboration.”
What is particularly important about our CookCamp model is the focus on not only recipe training (from mise en place to knife skills to scaling recipes), but also on the “why” of our work – to fight childhood obesity. While observing our CookCamp model, the leadership of OFNS recognized the influence of the CookCamp training – to inspire those on the front line, the school cooks and managers – to be part of the solution. When asked how she is part of the obesity solution, a school cook explained in our October training how much she already notices how children are enjoying the new menu items, like fresh salad options and homemade spiced Adobe chicken. We have engaged a team of seven WITS Chefs and Managers to serve as lead trainers. They will gather with the 50 OFNS staff each month, in both classrooms and kitchens. Says Janice, one of the participants, “I didn’t know how we got picked as a school [for Bronx Plan] . . . Because of the CookCamp, I realize it’s a privilege, and I am excited to be one of the first schools.”
In addition to CookCamp training, we will market and promote the new recipes through WITS Tastings and Family Cooking Classes. We will teach families to prepare and enjoy the Bronx Plan International Lunch Menu recipes, such as Vegetarian Chili, Spiced Chicken with Rice and Beans, Pasta Primavera, and Sweet and Sour Chicken Bowl during a series of family classes. Classes like these have been shown to positively influence children’s food preferences and behaviors, according to a recent study by the Minnesota Heart Institute Foundation entitled “Food Explorers” (2015). The Family Cooking Classes are sponsored by Whole Foods Market 5% Day.
By educating school staff, parents, caregivers, and students on the why of this work and by supporting them to be wellness role models, Wellness in the Schools is executing on the goal of our NYC Chancellor, Richard A. Carranza: “The Bronx Plan is grounded in our fundamental belief of investing in our schools, our students and our communities.” Our goal is to grow with this plan to serve all 180 schools, and to use as a pilot to expand citywide.