What WITS Makes, Trenton Takes

By: Marion Williams, NJ Director + Melissa Neubart, Development Director

Driving into Trenton, New Jersey, you will be taken back by the massive, glowing red letters spelling out WHAT TRENTON MAKES, THE WORLD TAKES. This slogan hangs from a railroad bridge over the Delaware River. The slogan was chosen in 1910, when Trenton was a bustling and thriving city. While today, Trenton has lost many of its businesses, Trentonians are proud to live in the city, and partners such as Novo Nordisk have invested their energy to support the community.  

Three years ago, Novo Nordisk invited us to be a part of their Trenton-based collaborative, “Ready Set Healthy.” Together, we work to engage children in healthy eating and exercise. The collaborative is designed to help improve the health and wellbeing of Trenton’s young people by increasing knowledge about and access to healthy, affordable foods, to provide more opportunities for physical activity, and to give students, parents, and caregivers the tools to make healthy lifestyle choices.

Novo Nordisk invited us into the collaborative to focus on increasing healthy food options and nutrition education at four elementary schools (Jefferson, Martin Luther King, Jr., Columbus, and Robbins). When we began in 2015, our first project was to partner with 37-year old Trenton-based non-profit, Isles, to organize tastings of seasonal recipes. We also taught quick, nutrition lessons (WITS Bits) in the classroom. As students’ interests of food and nutrition piqued, so did our program.  

While we began to teach culinary and nutrition lessons, Francisca Sohl, General Manager of Aramark (Trenton’s food service) became a invaluable partner to us. Together, Ms. Sohn and WITS Program Director Marion Williams discussed ways to bring new recipes, marinades, and sauces on the menu; for example, we prepared a fresh citrus marinade for chicken, and it was popular with both students and teachers.

Last fall, Chef Anwar led a WITS Vegetarian Chili Lab in all four of the Ready Set Healthy! schools in Trenton. It was a hit, to say the least. As students walked through the hallway, they were welcomed by the the aroma of the cumin, chili powder, sauteed onions, garlic, and peppers that were being prepared for the chili. Teachers peeked their head into the classroom  as Chef Anwar and the WITS Lab students were preparing the food to ask, “is it ready yet?” and “can I have seconds?”. We were so glad, (but not surprised!) that the scratch-cooked food was welcomed.

We have also worked with Trenton’s school lunch staff to create a salad bar full of fresh and delicious vegetables –  a great accomplishment between Aramark and Wellness in the Schools. As the year went on, Ms. Sohn of Aramark asked “what else can we do together?” This started the conversation of putting a WITS recipe on the Trenton School Lunch Menu in all 26 schools. The first menu choice was a given – Aramark and WITS chose to place the vegetarian chili on the menu. Beginning this fall, 16,000 students are enjoying a new recipe item. What’s next in Trenton? Stay tuned!