Less Makes Room for More

Written by: Nancy Easton

Another year, another moment to reflect. Although, as I get older, I feel like all I do is reflect; and then rework and obsess! This year, I feel a decade younger as I have not had the “luxury” to stop and think, and somehow have found energy reserves that have been unleashed! I am almost giddy, nonstop and digging deep as we expand our work in very direct ways, beginning in NYC.

Last summer, the NYC’s Office of Food and Nutrition Services (OFNS), together with The Mayor’s Office of Food Policy and the Mayor’s Office, asked us to create a Chef Council to develop plant-based, scratch-cooked, and culturally relevant recipes. This next fall (bring it on, 2023!), we will hire 100 new WITS Chefs to train the OFNS cooks on the preparation of these recipes. Truly a dream come true. And, truly a testimony to our team who have worked in partnership with NYC for nearly two decades, building bridges and trust along the way. The leadership of the great city of NY, from our Mayor to the CEO of OFNS, have embraced us with like minds and open arms. 

In parallel, our Coach for Kids program will launch a partnership with Exos and the NYC Office of School Wellness to bring virtual on-demand and live-streamed Exos Fit movement breaks to 7,500 students across 15 New York City public schools in a pilot program, poised to expand nationwide. Exos joined as a partner last summer with a WITS Play Day at PS 55 in the Bronx, and we have continued to build on that to co-create a program bringing fitness breaks to more students in a more efficient manner. Fittingly, we have worked with the NYC Office of School Wellness since our inception and this moment, too, is a testimony to the trust and reputation building of our team. Bring it on 2023.

Looking nationally, this year we will host our inaugural ScratchWorks conference in Austin, Texas, where 100 food service operators will gather to learn from and with each other. They will then bring back this learning to their home kitchens in order to improve their scratch cooking methodologies. WITS launched this initiative in 2019 and thanks to the collective work of our many partners, we are bringing another dream to fruition this year. Bring it on 2023. Our partner districts from around the country will join this collective effort in April.

Each year in January, I am asked to share resolutions and suggestions for a healthy year ahead. If you have read even one of my many sentences, you would know that “resolutions” are not exactly in my vernacular. Wellness in the Schools works on lifestyle changes, on creating healthy habits to learn and live better. Resolutions feel more like diets or trends of the moment. Instead, I like to share some lifestyle tips. And, in this big year, I enlisted our extraordinary WITS team members to share some of the habits they have developed over time that power them to do this great work each day. Here they are (I share just a few):

Something I do now and want to work on more is taking the first 5 minutes of my day to stretch — no phone, no email, just movement to inspire all that is possible every day.

Abby de Riel, Development Manager

I want to spend 10 minutes each day in meditation and 10 minutes stretching.

Alexina Cather, Chefs in the Schools Manager

My goal for wellness this year is to keep doing my “prehab” exercises several times a week so I can keep doing all the things I love to do that beat me up! I have a twenty-minute routine and whenever I slack on it it comes back to bite me.

Cait Olesky, California Program Manager

Drink more water daily, spend more time with friends and family, and meditate for 10 minutes before bed every night.

Wendy Siskin, National Program Director

I like to drink a cold tea made with turmeric, apple cider vinegar, black pepper, a little chili flake and honey. I make a big batch and bring a cup to work every day. I also like to wake up in the morning and do a 20-minute weight workout and stretch. It’s a good way to start the day and get my blood flowing; also if I end up working late and can’t do a regular workout, I at least get something in that day.

Bill Telepan, Executive Chef

Drink more water.

Gisselle Madariaga, Program Operations Manager

This year, I am downsizing the portion sizes and plate sizes of my home-cooked meals. In addition to helping us be more mindful of how much food is on our plates (and if we *really* need that second or third serving), I’ve found that I’ve simply been prepping too much of a dish when cooking for my loved ones. Sometimes these leftovers escape my radar and go bad in the fridge, so making less ensures that there is less waste to go into the trash bin or compost pile at the end of the day.

Ricardo Diaz, Program Manager

No new resolutions, keeping things simple, less stress.

Marion Williams, National Program Director

My new year goal is to stretch daily (hopefully several times). 

–Marjorie Wolfson, Chief of Staff

I trust you see the same themes emerge as I do — keep it simple (drink water). Ground yourself each day (meditation, technology break, morning stretch). I love how two of our members point out that if they miss their stretch or morning routine, they are set off for the day. This says so much about how our resolutions have become habits — threaded into our lives, as habitual as brushing our teeth. I share big plans, clashing against simple lifestyle goals. This all seems to make good sense. In order to accomplish our big dreams, we must hydrate, stretch and ground ourselves each day. Bring. It. On. 2023.