Salad Bar Stories

As the first school year of our Chefs in the Schools culinary training and menu development initiative nears its end, we look back on some of the favorite memories shared by our WITS Chefs. A team of 72 strong this year, WITS Chefs have been a wonderful presence in kitchens, cafeterias, and classrooms across all NYC boroughs, providing training to cooks, nutrition education to students, and sharing the joy of nourishing food with the entire school community. Salad bars in cafeterias have been the location of pivotal change for Wellness in the Schools’ students this year as they try new foods, gain confidence, and build the healthy habits that will help them to thrive. We would like to highlight some of these stories below. 

WITS Chef Benjamin Dawson with OFNS Cook Yvonne at PS 244, Brooklyn

“My favorite WITS memory so far is from my very first school; there was a fourth grader I noticed right away, he was very bright and sweet, a bit overweight, seemed to get picked on a bit, and often ate lunch alone. I started interacting with him daily, talking about food and nutrition, making him special salads and new recipes, and encouraging him to try different veggies. I’d go sit with him and get his review of the day’s lunch, and just generally treated him like a VIP. Before I knew it he started serving himself a big salad every day, gaining confidence, and little by little when I’d go visit his table other kids saw the fun we were having and started to join us at lunch. By the end of the rotation he was eating healthy, and he was eating with a bunch of his new friends.  Little things like these are why WITS is truly meaningful work.” – WITS Chef Benjamin Dawson

One of my favorite comments from a student has been, “The salad bar looks so sunny!” Another student told me they wanted to try what other kids were eating on the salad bar, learned her favorite was the Cucumber Strawberry Salad, and over time tried so many different salad bar items every day. I love listening to their feedback and being a part of their neighborhood.” – WITS Chef Isabel Ramirez-Inniss 

WITS Chef Chandala Waters at PS 128, Manhattan 

“Working here, I’ve found that my favorite recipe and food is kale salad. I love seeing the kids’ faces when they try the new recipes and like them. So far, the Pineapple Rice Medley and Kale Salad Recipes are big favorites!” – WITS Chef Chandala Waters

“I love this job because I’m able to have a tangible impact on the very schools and communities I grew up in while cooking dishes that reflect the cultures I’ve grown up around. I enjoy creating different from scratch dressings/marinades made with culturally inspired spices and flavors. My favorite item to put on the salad bar has been marinated kale!” – WITS Chef Fanerra Dupree 

“I think my favorite part of the job is when the kids call me ‘the salad lady’ or try something new from the service line and come back to let me know they really liked it. They loved having a taste of kale chips!” WITS Chef Enoemma Cruz

WITS Chef Michael Singh-Hulse at Midwood High School, Brooklyn

“I joined Wellness in the Schools because I remember walking past the salad bar every day in public school, not knowing what any of the vegetables were. It brings me joy to see a student trying a new vegetable now and coming back to the salad bar the following day.”– WITS Chef Michael Singh-Hulse 

WITS Chef Khadejah Kizer at PS 15, Brooklyn

My favorite foods to cook are those that challenge my creativity as a Chef and use new ingredients — I always tell myself, ‘I will try everything at least twice!’ and encourage my students to do the same. One of my favorite moments as a WITS Chef came after I spent a week making Kale Salad dressings from scratch to complement the specials of the day. The kitchen staff initially believed it wouldn’t be received well based on the past, but encouraged me to try anyhow. When I came back the next week, I was told that students and staff were asking for the Chef and looking forward to my return as they’d had an amazing reception to the recipes the previous week!” – WITS Chef Khadejah Kizer

“I love making culturally relevant foods from scratch and ensuring access to healthy fresh food for the children in my neighborhood. I depended on school breakfast and lunch as a child, so it brings me joy to see them line up for the salad bar and choose fresh vegetables. … One of my favorite moments was at P.S. 57, where school staff were all looking for me — and asked me to please make some more dressing from scratch! The Honey Vinaigrette dressing was enjoyed by kids, staff, and everyone. I was so proud and happy the kids were enjoying homemade salad dressing, something most of them have never had.” – WITS Chef Janelle Mitchell 

Read more stories from WITS Chefs on our Instagram @wellnessintheschools.