Summer Chef / Fitness Partner Tip

Summer Chef Partner Tip:

We are pleased to announce our new Chef Partner, Dominick Maietta, the Chef de Cuisine for Coqueta in San Francisco. Chef Maietta was born and raised in the Bronx, and his family has been in the restaurant business since the 1940’s. He attended culinary school when he was 22, and has been working his way up ever since. He deeply believes in WITS’ message of health – he realized that with his 12 – 16 hour work days, he really had to look at food as fuel. When asked why he wanted to get involved with WITS, he says, “I was looking to volunteer on my off days specifically with a school program. Thanks to Instagram, I saw my culinary school was partnering with WITS, and I was intrigued. I did some research and found they had a West Coast operation in the Bay Area. What has stood out to me so far is the dedication WITS has for helping students connect the dots – from the farm to the cutting board to tasting the finished product. It is such a well-rounded approach to teaching kids about food.” We’re lucky to have Chef Dominick as part of our team! See below for his Summer Recipe.

“I absolutely love making watermelon salad in the summer. It’s so easy and very refreshing. I make a couple different versions but this is one of my favorites.” – Dominick Maietta, Chef de Cuisine of Coqueta 

Watermelon Feta Salad

1 medium seedless watermelon cut into 1″ cubes
Juice from 3 limes
1/4 cup olive oil
1 1/2 tsp of salt
3/4 tsp ground pepper
1/2 cup fresh mint, chopped
1/2 cup crumbled feta

Combine the lime juice, olive oil, and salt and pepper in a small bowl to create a dressing. Pour the dressing over the watermelon cubes and toss gently to coat. Gently mix in the fresh mint and feta cheese. 

*This salad is best made just prior to serving.
*When I pick out a watermelon I always choose one with a large yellow sunspot. They tend to be the sweetest!

Summer Fitness Partner Tip:


We were very excited to have Soft Lacrosse as our Fitness Partner this past year as they joined us at Epiphany Lower School for a WITS Play Day in January. This organization is on a mission to provide all youth with the opportunity to better themselves and communities through lacrosse; their activities are designed to help boys and girls gain confidence and improve their ability to problem solve, work with others, and make sound decisions to live a healthy lifestyle.  We are looking forward to partnering with them again this year to offer students an opportunity to try out lacrosse. See below for our Summer Fitness Partner Tip:

Think of your body like an engine – you can go fast and have a lot of fun but only if you’re warmed up and ready to go. It’s easy to get your body’s engine ready to play!

First, you need to put fuel in your engine. Next time you eat, take a look at the food on our plate and count how many colors there are. The more colors of food you have, the better the fuel is and the faster and stronger you’ll be. Once your engine is fueled up, we can get ready to go!!

With our engines strong and ready to play, we need to get our minds ready for fun too. Our engine is steered by the control room so we need to make sure it’s ready to go full speed too. Here’s a way for you to focus on the game so you can get out and have even more fun:

  • Close your eyes or find a spot just in front of you. Look right at it and keep your eyes on that spot.
  • Put your hand on your belly and feel the flow of breath in and out.
  • Give your full attention to your breath and feel it all the way in and all the way out.
  • Try to notice your in-breath and observe right when it begins
  • Follow it through all the way through to the out-breath.
  • Then see if you can feel the little moment right between breaths where everything is still and quiet.
  • This is your still quiet place. It’s always with us. Even when we are excited, or silly, or even when we’re sad, or want to jump around.

Finding our quiet place can take a few seconds or a few minutes. You can use your quiet place to give our full attention to the game, which means our engines can go super fast and you’ll have a lot more fun. Give it a try next time you are about to play!


Allison Grover and David Mansbach join WITS Board of Directors

By: Melissa Neubart

This summer, we had the pleasure of welcoming two new members to our Board of Directors, Allison Grover and David Mansbach. Both bring unique passions and experiences in the health and hospitality industries. We are excited for their fresh perspectives – we think you will agree!

Allison Grover is a former Wall Streeter, mom of four, and advisor to and investor in several early stage fitness and wellness companies.  Allison stepped away from her finance career to stay home with her small kids for two years. Instead of finance, she went back to work for the children’s wear and athleisure brand, Terez, where she served as president and brand strategist for two years. It was through this role at Terez that Allison was really able to develop her relationships in the fitness world beyond the recreational status she already had.   

After leaving Terez, Allison continued to cultivate her relationships and participation in the fitness world, and one thing became very clear to her – that though there was an explosion in terms of the fitness options and level of accessibility for her, optionality and accessibility did not extend to the underserved neighborhoods of New York City. Mending that disparity became a passion of Allison’s.  And as luck would have it, she was discussing this passion with a friend two years ago, and this friend said, “You must meet Nancy Easton” – and the rest is happy history.

Allison can’t wait to dig in further with WITS, and hopefully bring some value to the table. 

We also have the pleasure of welcoming David Mansach. David is a founding partner at AETHOS Consulting, a global advisory firm serving the hospitality industry. David has a very interesting story of how he found himself in this field. In college, David pursued accounting as it was the only way his father would pay for his education. By pure luck, he found his career path when he landed his first job in the accounting department at The Plaza in New York City. After the first 8 years on the operations side of the hotel business, his experiences led him into his current role at AETHOS. He says that he’s lucky to have had a mentor since his time at The Plaza, and feels passionate about coaching and helping people navigate their way through their field of work.  “It’s what I do,” he says, “we have an obligation to help the younger generation.”

David constantly tells his children, “Find your passion and you’ll never work a day in your life.”  He advises people not to worry about the pay, but more so to focus on finding a mentor within the first three years of your career to build a foundation. It’s also very important not to compare yourself to your friends. These are his rules of the road: “If you’re on that journey, you’ll be able to find your passion.” 

David heard about Wellness in the Schools from WITS Board of Director’s President Nick Marsh, CEO of Chop’t. David decided to become a Board Member after seeing WITS Executive Director and Founder Nancy Easton’s passion for what she is doing. “You don’t see that kind of passion in many people like you do with Nancy.” David wants to help be a part of this movement to revolutionize school food. 

We’re excited to have Allison and David support WITS’ growth in years to come.

Green for Kids and Cook for Kids in the Bronx

By: Ricardo Diaz

One year ago, the New York Botanical Garden (NYBG) showcased an edible garden as part of their educational center. The Edible Academy is a state-of-the-art educational facility featuring hands-on activities and innovative programs that help children, families, teachers, and the general public learn about growing and preparing vegetables, fruit, and herbs while encouraging a lifelong interest in gardening, nutrition awareness, and environmental stewardship. The NYBG sits in an area of high food insecurity, which makes the Edible Academy’s work even more crucial. The initiatives cover topics such as how to plant and grow herbs, how to compost, and how to harvest vegetables. Two WITS schools, AmPark Neighborhood School and Samara Community School, often take trips to the NYBC.

WITS was invited to take part in two events at the Edible Academy this year, thanks to our relationship within the Bronx community. Before the Edible Academy was established, WITS Program Manager Marion Williams established a partnership with Bronx Green-Up, an arm of the NYBC. Thus, WITS was invited to be a part of the Edible Academy’s opening weekend. The WITS team provided cooking demonstrations as part of their “Honey & Harvest” opening weekend.

WITS was then invited to be a part of the Summer Solstice Celebration this past June, to celebrate the Edible Academy’s one year anniversary. The team provided demonstrations using the vegetables and herbs that were growing in the garden itself. This was a true example of our national work – WITS utilized a recipe (spring pea pesto) initially created by one of our Chef Partner Aria Kagan in Florida, which was then modified for use in the Washington D.C. CookCamp. Because the Edible Academy was growing spinach, the team used fresh spinach along with the spring peas, and created paninis and pesto pasta salads. All the WITS schools in the neighborhood were invited, and every participant received a tasting and recipe card, along with a thorough explanation of how to make the meals.  

As a WITS Chef with schools in the Bronx (who also happens to be from the Bronx), it has been a pleasure and privilege to join Chef Marion in collaborating with not only a local organization with established roots in the community, but also with a very accommodating partner. WITS is looking forward to going back for the next demonstration, and building upon our relationships within this special community.

Teamwork Takeover

By: Akasha Anderson-Nelms

Our WITS team truly walks the Phil Jackson talk, “We know the strength of the team is each individual member. The strength of each member is the team.”

In our schools, the “why” of our work remains constant; however, the “how” sometimes needs a customized approach with the help of our team. Our teams of WITS Chefs and Coaches are spread out all over New York City, each working in their own assigned schools. However, as we evaluate day-to-day work, we realize that some schools may need an extra push towards increasing healthy habits within the school’s culture. This is when we pull out the big bag of WITS solutions and bring in not one, but a whole team of WITS staff to “takeover” one school for a day.

The Takeovers are designed to showcase an amplified version of our programming to schools that need more support within either our WITS Cook or Coach for Kids programs, or both! Our presence in the school gets quadrupled with the enthusiastic WITS team, extra branding materials, recess equipment, and even balloons. 

The WITS Recess Takeovers bring a team of WITS Coaches together before recess begins and conducts a WITS Play workshop with all the school recess aides. Together, the WITS Coaches lead a roundtable discussion about how to better plan for a positive recess experience, delegate leadership roles to the staff, and fine tune the skills needed to do so. The school aides get to practice how to facilitate new WITS games, how to better work with large groups of children in small spaces, and how to model conflict resolution through play. Once recess starts, our coaches join the aides at various zones on the yard, implementing the plans they designed together. WITS Coach Sarah reflected on the Recess Takeover at PS 85, “I think we had a successful takeover, and the recess aides were willing to hear our ideas as well as share their own!” The collaboration between recess aide and WITS Coach reflects the emphasis WITS places on “people talking to people is how change happens.” This year these recess takeovers took place at three schools all over Manhattan.

The WITS Cafeteria Takeovers similarly brings a team of WITS Chefs together to reinvent the lunch experience, highlight featured lunch menu items, get the kids excited about the food, and teach them in a fun engaging style during the entire lunch service. Our WITS Chefs divide and conquer in different sections of the cafeteria. One WITS Chef joins the school cafeteria staff in the kitchen, helping with food prep and back of house, one walks around with a WITS tasting tray featuring special menu items like butternut squash, another WITS Chef teaches a WITS BIT, which are engaging nutrition lessons like “Taste the Rainbow” or “Sugar Overload,” and others inspire the kids to try something new in a fun engaging food game. These WITS Cafeteria Takeovers bring a whole new positive spin to “playing” with your food. With a team of Chefs in one cafeteria, we are able to maximize our engagement – WITS Chef Deb said of her Takeover at PS 110, “We got to speak one-on-one with every single child who came through the cafeteria that day.” 

It is a reminder that we are great alone, but as a collective we are a powerful force.

A Collective Vision of Possibility

By: Nancy Easton

I was staring at 50 (a handful of years ago now) and felt a sense of urgency. Wellness in the Schools had been doing some incredible work, making incremental change in schools around the country. But this was not enough. And, I had never seen so much interest and effort in school food. It was time to capitalize on this momentum. I stepped out of my comfort zone and took a risk. I started the School Food Innovation Lab.

I took a risk and invited a small group of Food Service Directors and organization leaders for a two day convening to envision what is possible for school meals. More specifically, to discuss ways to help all districts in our country accelerate their journey towards a higher percentage of scratch cooked meals. No easy task.

We came together from all over our country – from Arlington, Austin, Boulder, DC, Minneapolis, NYC. We came to innovate. We came with the spirit of collaboration. We rolled up our sleeves and worked together because the change we all want to see in school meals is not something that any one of us can do alone. We still walk into most school cafeterias in this country and see heat and serve, processed meals. The work of the School Food Innovation Lab participants is alternative and progressive. Together, we discussed how to make our scratch cooking practices the norm for the 31 million children who rely on school meals daily. We were a deliberately small and selective group of fewer than 15 participants. This allowed us to not only innovate, but to also be nimble, and focus on delivering results. And, we are. 

Together, we will design a coaching program and provide a resource database to help the 14,000 districts in this country take a step forward in their journey towards eliminating processed foods and instead, to cook from scratch. “We did this because we came [as] listeners, and were pushed to think in big thoughts,” said Anneliese Tanner, Food Service Director, Austin, Texas. Or, as our very own Stephen O’Brien from NYC shared: “The group was small, the discussions were targeted, and the walls were broken down, allowing for honest dialogue. We kept it on point, and we moved along.”

This work would not have been possible without funding from the Life Time Foundation, without support from the small team at Whole Kids Foundation and without the team of 12 who joined us last month. Everyone put their egos aside and came with the spirit of collaboration, best described by Chef Ann Cooper, whose words propelled me to take this risk: “I just want to help school food in America. What comes out of this doesn’t have anyone’s logo. [It’s] for the common good. “

We all took a risk together, with a collective vision of possibility.

Photo credit: Evan Sung @evansungnyc

Spring Chef / Fitness Partner Tip

Spring Chef Partner Tip

We partnered with Blue Apron in 2017 when they adopted four schools in the Bronx as a chef partner. It’s been an incredible partnership, and we are deeply grateful for their support. Says Blue Apron, “Our partnership with WITS has been one that continues to reward and excite everyone at Blue Apron! Teaching children that food can still be delicious while maintaining an aspect of nutrition is something that we are incredibly passionate about – and WITS allows us to do just that! Between trips to local schools, live demonstrations, and a trip to our Test Kitchen, we’ve loved having WITS be a part of our lives, and look forward to strengthening the relationship more in the years to come!”

Blue Apron’s Spring Pesto Mac & Cheese

Ingredients:

2 cups basil leaves

1⁄4 cup mint leaves

1⁄2 cup canned chickpeas, drained

1⁄8 cup parmesan cheese, grated, plus more for garnish

1⁄2 tsp crushed red pepper flakes

1 garlic clove, smashed

1 tsp lemon zest

2 teaspoons lemon juice (optional)

1 cup frozen peas, defrosted

6 oz fresh mozzarella, cubed

1/3 -1/2 cup olive oil, plus more for drizzling

12 oz dried or fresh pasta (any shape will do!)

Method:

  1. Start the Pesto: Add the basil leaves, mint, chickpeas, garlic, and a drizzle of olive oil to a food processor; pulse until chopped.
  2. Finish the Pesto : Add the Parmesan cheese, red pepper flakes, lemon zest and juice (if using) to the food processor. Pulse until combined. With the processor running, slowly add enough olive oil through the feed tube and process until the pesto is finely pureed and thoroughly combined. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Assemble your dish : Cook your pasta per the package instructions; thoroughly drain. Transfer the pesto to a large bowl. Add your cooked pasta, defrosted peas and cubed mozzarella. Mix to combine; season with salt and pepper to taste. Garnish with Parmesan cheese. Enjoy!

Spring Fitness Partner Tip

Since 2007, Yogi Beans has been translating the practice of yoga into a language kids understand and enjoy! They are committed to introducing young people to a healthy and lifelong activity that is noncompetitive, non-judgmental, physically challenging, and a ton of fun! Seven years ago, they partnered with Wellness in the Schools to offer the Yogi Beans classes as a part of WITS Family Fitness Fun Nights.  Both companies believe fostering healthy habits in children at a young age create healthy and happier adults. Says Yogi Beans, “We specifically love being a part of Family Fitness Fun nights because it is an opportunity for the entire family to practice yoga together. It is wonderful to see a child show their parent how to do a yoga pose and watch both practice meditation and savasana (final rest pose) together.”

Yoga is a Mind- Body-Heart practice.  Below are tips for each aspect of Yoga.

Mind: Watch your thoughts!  In our Yogi beans classes we practice our “I AM” mantras.  Make sure the word that follows I AM is a word that makes you feel good!

Body: One of the most simple and effective poses is Cat and Cow.  Begin on your hands and knees. Round your back as if you were a scared cat to come into “cat” pose.  Arch your back as you drop your belly to the floor for “cow” pose. These two poses are great to practice first thing in the morning to wake up your spine after a restful nights sleep. (Meows and Moo’s are optional!)

Heart:  Before the start of school, a child and their parent can take a moment to think of one thing that they are both grateful for.  Cultivating gratitude and appreciation make for a happy heart.

Three Cheers for South Florida! See how our Flagship Program has impacted 4th Grader, Christie Carlo

While we offer a variety of programming, our most well-known one is our 3-year Flagship model. The Flagship model operates within school kitchens, supporting the implementation of scratch-cooked menus, preparation of healthy school lunch, and expansion of salad bars. The WITS Chefs work alongside school food staff, and also hold WITS Labs and WITS Tastings throughout the school year. We gradually scale back our presence as school cooks learn how to prepare the recipes on their own.

Christie Carlo has gone through our 3 year Flagship Program at Watkins Elementary in Florida. See below for an interview!

Interview with Christie Carlo

from 2016-2019

Grade– 4th Grade

What does WITS mean to you?

  • “Sometime I don’t like trying new things. But WITS, through Cooking Classes and tastings, has made me feel comfortable trying new things!”

What have you learned from year one of WITS to now, year three?

  • “Before buying something, always read the labels…oh ya and check how much sugar is there! Now I do that when I go to Walmart with my mom. I used to buy Lay’s Potato Chips but one day Chef Leonor showed that they were not very healthy so I asked my mom to buy me veggie chips instead.”

What was your favorite WITS Lab Recipe?

  • “Honey Mustard Dressing and Yogurt Dip with Fruit!”

What is one thing you learned from WITS Labs?

  • “First, always wash your hands because you do not want to spread germs. Then when using your knife, use it properly so that you do not cut yourself. Also, if you have a big knife you can scoop up your chopped food with the blade.”

What is your favorite item on the School Lunch Line?

  • “Kale Pizza! I used to help finish my friends slices if they didn’t finish it!”

Do you cook at home?

  • “I can’t cook alone so I help my mom. I helped her make the WITS veggie chili once, it came out so good.”

What do you want to be when you grow up?

  • “I want to have my own business to design buildings- I think that’s called an architect?”

Has WITS helped you in your core classes?

  • Ya! It’s helped me with conversions like cups and Tablespoons which has helped me in Math.”

Anything else?

  • “Chef Leonor is funny. She likes to flex her muscles and tell us protein is good for us. Chef Leonor also helps us know how the color of foods foods help our body…for example, “red” is good for our heart, “blue” is good for memory and “orange” is good for vitamin c!!”

Overall:

“WITS is good but it should be everywhere. It would be sad if every kid didn’t get the opportunity that Chef Leonor gives us.”

Plating with the Pros: The Bittman + Telepan CookCamp

This April, our Wellness in the Schools leadership teamed up with the Mailman School of Public Health to hold a one-day CookCamp at the Institute of Culinary Education for their graduate students. WITS’ Nancy Easton and  Chef Bill Telepan and Mailman faculty member (and prominent cookbook author…) Mark Bittman led the CookCamp for 15 participants. Participants learned basic culinary techniques, while also discussing the role of cooking in public health, particularly in efforts to inform, educate, and empower people to prepare healthful meals.

This idea was brought to fruition after a meeting with Julie Kornfeld, the Vice Dean at Mailman, and Mark himself. Philosophically, both organizations want to solve public health issues, for WITS, specifically childhood obesity. What better way to do this than to teach public health graduates how to cook?. It made sense to combine Mark and Bill’s chef expertise with WITS’ programming. By using Mark’s recipes from his well-known How to Cook Everything and by leveraging his knowledge and WITS’ curricula, WITS designed  a class.

The day started similarly to a WITS CookCamp, designed for school cooks. After a short reflection, in which participants answered questions on issues surrounding food, health, and the obesity epidemic, everyone gathered into the kitchen. The menu was extensive and ambitious: roast chicken parts, pan-cooked salmon with two different types of drizzles, stir fried tofu, rice and beans, and much more. Before the participants separated into teams to each tackle a recipe, Mark and Bill provided demos and taught fundamentals such as basic knife skills.

The day closed with a final reflection that circled back to the beginning of the day, addressing why it was important to learn how to prepare healthful meals, and why cooking is such an empowering tool. Said one participant, “I can see now how food – more specifically, healthy food – is essential to ending the obesity epidemic.” Said another, “I learned so much about how to cook healthy meals at the CookCamp. I didn’t know how to prepare salmon, or how to make my own salad dressings!” Due to the success of this CookCamp, WITS is excited for further collaboration.

Life as an Adelphi Fellow: Stories from our Graduates

As we graduate the third cohort of Adelphi University Fellows, we want to take a minute to applaud our partners at Adelphi and thank our two graduates – by hearing directly from them. As most of you know, we partner with Adelphi University to bring talented graduate students into our Coach for Kids workforce. Each year, a cohort of students earn a tuition-free Masters degree in Sports Based Youth Development in return for working as WITS Coaches. The partnership is a win:win, as WITS gets talented Coaches, with the support of a university and the students get a free graduate degree. What we did not plan for was how bittersweet it would be when our Fellows graduated with their Master’s degrees. For the fellows, this degree is the launch pad to their careers – so many of our graduates over the years are doing some incredible work out there.

To Jason and Sarah – we deeply appreciate the work you have done with us. The lives you helped shape in your WITS schools will forever have your imprint. The skills, energy, passion, and lessons you brought to this work will continue to shape healthy habits in the lives of hundreds of children. Thank you for your contribution and best of luck in all that you do. We know you will be a huge success. – Wendy, WITS Senior Program Director

“Life as an Adelphi fellow and WITS Coach has been a great experience and journey for me, and one of the blessings I have had is the chance to share my experience with many children from diverse backgrounds through movement and play. Being a WITS coach enables you to inspire children, put smiles on faces and bring people together. Through my past experience in coaching soccer, I was able to engage with so many children through the Coach for Kids program. While my encouragement for soccer was not always influential to start with, it slowly became a highlight over the last two years. And on one sunny day in the Bronx, I turned up to the school to witness 4th and 5th graders empowered to involve everyone who wanted to play in a small sided game. This kind of engagement with children in diverse communities is not always common in the classroom setting, but with persistence, energy and patience with the children I was able to create this safe space where they could connect with one another through play. With my assistance throughout the year and by working alongside schools staff, it was a joy to see the way this diverse group was collectively growing, week by week. It eventually led to their own school team! Their excitement each week to highlight their improvements and show me their new skills at recess, is something I will never forget. Most importantly for me, I also noticed the friendships that were developing and the energy change within the yard as many children all of different race, ethnicity, skill level and experience came together through a little guidance. As a WITS coach, that is what we are there to do. These life-changing experiences will stay with me forever and I have to thank Wellness in the Schools for providing them for me.”  – Jason Hadley

“These past two years with Wellness in the Schools have been so memorable. I was so fortunate to be placed in the Epiphany lower school for both years. Balancing the Adelphi fellowship, WITS, and other jobs has been difficult, but I wouldn’t trade any of these experiences for the world. While working at Epiphany, I found myself a part of their community. Each day working with the students, I was reminded why I do what I do. For example, my first year, there was a second grade girl who was shy and utterly afraid of trying anything new. For the most part, she would sit and read a book on the stairs for the whole recess period. Throughout the 2017-2018 school year I would spark conversation and she would try games such as helicopter or switch. Then later in the year, I introduced the junior coach position. She signed up for one week and this seemed to have opened up her world. I think being in a leadership position helped her come out of her shell. She soon began playing with new friends, participating in more games, and suggesting games. This transformation was so awesome. At the beginning of the 2018-2019 school year, I had a WITS table set up at the back to school night event. The girl’s mom approached the table and introduced herself and told me how much I had impacted her daughter’s life. I was totally blown away by this and I had never expected to meet her mother. This example is just one of many that I can reflect on while working for WITS. I am so grateful for the opportunity to get my master’s degree and this wouldn’t be possible without WITS. I just want to thank everyone for all of their support and guidance these past two years. Thank you!” – Sarah Merck

*WITS Note: Many congrats to Sarah for winning the “Excellence in Sports Based Youth Development Award” from Adelphi University! We are so proud!