A new WITS Lab has premiered to students all across the country this year: Pineapple Rice Medley.
Thanks to our Chefs in the Schools program and NYC’s inaugural Chef Council, Pineapple Rice Medley is one of many new recipes on NYC’s public school lunch menu. It’s also the first of three new WITS Labs this year that Wellness in the Schools has created for students through our traditional flagship programming model. These WITS Labs highlight a “star of the show” ingredient from a recipe and dive deep into the nutrition, history, seasonality, and connection to the cafeteria for students. Chef Council member Tyler Ranson of Sakara Life developed this Pineapple Rice Medley recipe that adds fruit, vegetables, and whole grains to students’ plates.
To design the Pineapple Rice Medley Lab, a team of WITS Chefs, Lab Instructors, and Managers translate the recipe into an experience for students in the classroom. The logistics of making a recipe in a school kitchen versus a classroom are different; in the classroom, chefs set up a table display of all of the recipe’s ingredients and then give students the ownership to make the recipe themselves. In the Lab, we highlight the star ingredient, brown rice. We talk about the benefits of whole grains, what a whole grain is and its many varieties, how it helps our digestion, and how it has a nutty flavor. We introduce the other ingredients: sweet pineapple, crunchy string beans, carrots, peas, corn and a zesty seasoning of soy sauce, ginger, and garlic. We give students a “chef’s job” of chopping string beans and allow them to add spices to the pot and help mix up the recipe.
Each step of the lesson plan gives students a hands-on fun, engaging, and safe experience with a recipe. WITS Chef and Program Manager Cait Olesky works on developing WITS Lab lesson plans and remarked, “It’s amazing to see the entire process from just the beginning idea, to the modifications to a classroom setting and a home recipe in the recipe cards students take home, to seeing it play out in class and having students actively participate and love the end result.”
In October, this excitement was ready to be put into action with Pineapple Rice Medley being prepared and tasted by students. WITS Lab Instructor Victoria Baluk observed that this Lab piqued students’ curiosity with so many interesting ingredients in one dish and was a perfect opportunity for her to teach the concept of “Eating the Rainbow” to the students. She explained, “The ingredients are so colorful — carrots, peas, corn, green beans, and pineapple — making the dish visually exciting and something where they could gobble up almost every color.”
The star ingredient, brown rice, proved to be another favorite of students. WITS Chef, Program Manager, and RDN Ricardo Díaz pointed out that rice is a staple ingredient of multiple cultural cuisines, so students could explore a new variety of a dish they might encounter outside of school. “Students enjoyed learning about and smelling the seasonings we used, and most were drawn to taste the rice of its garnish of pineapples,” Ricardo said. “The middle school students in particular appreciated hearing how they could use leftover rice and a few staple ingredients at home to make this recipe into a side dish or as part of their main meal.”
WITS Chef Yamilet Limonta taught her first-ever day of WITS Lab classes with this recipe at PS 75 in Manhattan this fall, remarking that “no amount of pre-planning or training can prepare you for the absolute overwhelming excitement from little ones who just learned that they’re going to eat a recipe that has fruit and vegetables in it!”