For the April Harvest of the Month, we taste tested local potatoes from Szawlowski Farms in Hatfield, MA. The potatoes were coated with olive oil and Sazón seasoning, and then roasted to create crisp, colorful, and flavorful french fries. We get our french fries precut, but you can cut your own at home, or use Sazón to flavor home fries, baked potatoes, smashed potatoes, hash browns, and the list goes on!
To make these fries (or whatever potato shape/form floats your boat), coat your potatoes with olive oil and Sazón until potatoes take a reddish tone. Then spread the potatoes on a greased baking sheet and roast in the oven at 400 degrees for approximately 25 minutes. Check the potatoes after 15 minutes and stir them around to make sure that they cook evenly and don't stick to the pan. You can add even more Sazón at this step if you want :) Then put your potatoes back in the oven and baked for another 10 minutes until golden brown. Enjoy!
Students voted on the taste test by dropping a slip of paper in the bucket that corresponded to their opinion of the fries. The final results: 24 disliked, 34 liked, and 174 LOVED the fries!!
By Kelly Zimmerhanzel
Despite the unusually cold weather, we have been busy this April planting lettuce. This year, our lucky crop of third, fourth, and fifth graders at Streiber, Litwin, Bowe, and Stefanik are participating in the Salad Days program created by Backyard Growers in Gloucester.
The program gives every student involved a total of three garden visits and two seed-to-fork experiences over the course of the year. In April, each class comes out to the garden to plant lettuce seeds. The lettuce grows until June, when each class returns to harvest what they planted and sow the fall crops: potatoes, beets, and carrots. The next day, we all enjoy a student-grown salad taste test in the cafeteria. Each class returns to the garden in the September to harvest the fall crops, which are then roasted and taste-tested in the cafeteria.
Now that we have done the planting at Streiber, Litwin, and Bowe, we have developed a fairly efficient system to allow every student in the class to plant in just 15 minutes. As soon as the class arrives in the garden, we begin with, “Hey everyone! Today we are going to plant lettuce. You guys will come out again in June and harvest the lettuce, and then you’ll get to eat it in the cafeteria!”
After the introduction, we determine how many students there are and divide the class in half.
Then I say, “This half of the line is going to go with Ms. Molly and play a game, and the other half of the line is going to come with me and Ms. Greta to plant and then we will switch.”
When we get to the garden bed, Greta or I will explain, “We all have to fit on half of this garden bed, so get as close to your neighbors as possible, huddle together like penguins.”
Each garden bed is divided into 1x1 foot squares using string, so each student or pair of students (depending on the size of the class) gets their own square to plant.
Once everyone has a square, we say, “Now that you have your squares, I need you to loosen up the soil. So make your hand into a tractor claw or bear claw and make the soil nice and fluffy.”
At Streiber and Litwin, it was so cold that the soil was a little frozen, making this step difficult, and leading many students to exclaim, “It’s so cold! I can’t feel my hands!” Thankfully, it was warmer at Bowe. So warm, in fact, that the kids encountered a variety of earthworms in the garden beds, including one truly enormous nightcrawler. Much to my delight, most of the students were intensely interested in our earthworm friends, with many eagerly asking, “Can I touch it?” and only a few exclaiming, “Eww!”
Students at Bowe Elementary making their rows. Check out that giant nightcrawler!
When the soil is loosened, we demonstrate the next step as we explain, “I need you to take your pointer finger and draw four vertical lines in the soil, just like this, all the way from the top of your square to the bottom. Your lines don’t need to be too deep, only about as deep as the first bend in your finger.”
After the lines are drawn, we show and tell them how to do the next step, “Now, with the hand you write with, I need you to make pincers, like a lobster, with your thumb and pointer finger. With your other hand I need you to make a cup to hold the seeds. We are going to put some seeds in your cupped hand and you are going to pinch the seeds with your pincer and sprinkle them into the lines you made. If you want, you can sing a little song to remember: pinch and sprinkle, pinch pinch and sprinkle.”
Students at Litwin cupping their hands to receive their lettuce seeds.
When the kids first receive their seeds, there are always one or two who exclaim incredulously, “These seeds are so tiny! Are you sure they grow into lettuce?”
Students at Streiber Elementary pinching and sprinkling their seeds into their rows.
Once the seeds are all sprinkled in the lines, we say, “Okay, now we need to cover our seeds with soil. I need you to gently wave your hand over the surface of the soil, just like I am, and say, ‘Goodnight seeds.’”
When everyone has tucked their seeds into bed, we say, “Awesome job everyone, we are all done planting! You can stand up and if you have any soil on your hands, you can do our farmer’s clap, like this. Now, you will go over to Ms. Molly to play a game and the other group will come over and plant!”
It’s great to see how much the kids enjoy being out in the garden, getting their hands dirty, and learning about their environment and where their food comes from. Molly and I can’t wait to finish up our April planting at Stefanik when we all return from Spring Break next week! We are all hoping the weather warms up so that our lettuce will have the chance to grow!
Our very own School Food Service Director, Joanne Lennon, received the prestigious 2018 Local Hero Award from CISA (Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture) for outstanding leadership in partnering with local farms.
Each year, CISA presents Local Hero Awards to farms, businesses, or individuals who exemplify their mission of strengthening farms and engaging the community to build the local food economy. All award winners are applauded for their hard work, social responsibility, and many contributions to sustaining local agriculture.
Mrs. Lennon gratefully accepted the award and dedicated it to the hard-working staff and managers in our school kitchens and farm to school program coordinators.
CISA's profile on Mrs. Lennon notes that she and her talented staff built a farm to school program in the Chicopee school district that stands as a model of how public schools can introduce food sourced from local farms into their menus and integrate farm and garden education into their classrooms. When she took over as Chicopee’s Food Service Director in 1991, the district’s lunchrooms were serving mostly convenience foods: “from the freezer to the oven,” says Mrs. Lennon. Improving the quality of the food by reintroducing scratch cooking was the first order of business, and luckily the schools were still equipped with fully functional (if outdated) kitchens and run by staff with cooking expertise.
Although Joanne’s farm to school work goes back 15 years, it remained a relatively small part of the school district’s purchasing until several years ago. “I always tried to buy a little more local every year, and then four years ago Chicopee Public Schools got a grant from the Kendall Foundation for ChicopeeFRESH, a new program that enabled us to make more connections, set up systems that could be copied by other school districts, and do this work on a larger scale. We went from 1-2% local to 15-18% local because we were able to hire someone to concentrate on this process,” says Mrs. Lennon. “It’s clear to everyone—the administration, parents, staff, students—that this work is a huge asset to the whole community, so now we have a permanent Sustainability Coordinator!”
Read the rest of CISA's profile on Mrs. Lennon and ChicopeeFRESH on their website: https://www.buylocalfood.org/2018-local-hero-awardee-joanne-lennon-chicopee-public-schools/
Today is Whole Grain Sampling Day--a date devoted to celebrating and tasting healthy whole grains! Second graders at Bowe Elementary got to participate in a special taste test to help us gather feedback about 88 Acres new kid-friendly grain and seed bar. After a brief review of whole grains (They give us energy to GO!) students were given samples of 88 Acres original dark chocolate and sea salt bar, along with samples of the new chocolate chip grain bar that contains oats, quinoa, millet, and buckwheat. Students used their senses to draw comparisons between the two bars and created a Venn diagram to jot down similarities and differences. For example, they found the original bar to be more moist, and the new bar to have a stronger cinnamon smell and flavor. Then students got down to the important work of tasting! Both bars received good reviews, but a blind vote revealed that the original bar beat out the new bar in popularity by several votes. After placing their votes, students practiced writing in full sentences and using descriptive words to explain which bar they preferred and why. We plan on sharing these results with 88 Acres and are thrilled to be able to participate in the product testing phase with our students!
This month, the Mass Farm to School harvest of the month is dairy. As dedicated plant lovers, Kelly and I did not let this get in the way of serving kids fresh veggies. Time and again in lessons and taste tests, our students have proven smoothies to be the perfect vessel for getting in the all-important 5 servings of fruits and veggies a day--they’ll drink spinach spinach, beets, or a combination of the two so long as they’re blended into liquid form. Following that logic, we decided to test out a carrot-infused smoothie for the March taste tests. As much an homage to the cute fuzzy cows at McCray’s Farm in South Hadley where we source our local milk, this cheery, bright orange beverage is a nutrient-filled toast to the oncoming spring season. Lachanophobes rejoice: the warm spices and creamy yogurt in this recipe make the smoothie taste less like vegetable juice and more like a frozen bakery treat. The resounding cafeteria chorus of “this is good!” from Bowe kids last Wednesday is as good a testament as any to how effective smoothies are at converting veggie skeptics.
This recipe also uses high-protein yogurt and anti-inflammatory cinnamon. It’s as good for snacks as it is for a healthy breakfast. You can make it vegan by using non-dairy milk and omitting the yogurt or substituting vegan yogurt or nut butter. Try it at home!
Carrot Cake Smoothies
Add all ingredients to a blender and mix until smooth. Add more milk to thin as needed.
This month our FoodCorps service members prepared Butternut Fries for our Harvest of the Month taste tests! Here's the recipe:
By Kelly Zimmerhanzel, FoodCorps Service Member
Eating healthy can be hard, or at least, that’s what you may think. With new diets and superfoods appearing faster than I can keep track, it can seem impossible to keep up with what is “good for you” this week. When you look at the beautiful, complicated, and expensive health foods featured on Instagram, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed and decide that you don’t have the time or money to eat healthy. But eating well doesn’t have to be complicated or expensive. In fact, it’s so easy a second grader can do it.
This month, two of my second grade classes at Bowe and Lambert-Lavoie learned how to build a healthy snack. The formula is simple: combine a whole grain, protein, and fruit or vegetable. I used Life Lab’s Go, Grow, Glow framework to explain to the kids how each of these ingredients help our bodies in distinct ways. Whole grains are complex carbohydrates that help our bodies Go, meaning they give us long-lasting energy to do things like running, jumping, and dancing. Foods with protein help our bodies Grow tall and strong, because proteins are the building blocks of bone and muscle. Fruits and vegetables make our bodies literally Glow because they contain vitamins and minerals that keep us healthy, giving us clear skin, shiny hair, and bright eyes.
For the whole grain component, we used Triscuits because, unlike many other packaged crackers, which have preservatives and added sugars, Triscuts are made with just three simple ingredients: whole grain wheat, vegetable oil, and salt. For the protein, we used Vanilla Spice Sunflower Seed Butter from 88 Acres, a bakery located in Boston that makes locally-sourced, allergen-free foods. Sunflower seed butter is a great alternative for kids with peanut or almond allergies, and can be found at most grocery stores. For the fruit or vegetable component, we used bananas because they’re cheap and wholesome, with tons of potassium and B vitamins. The kids loved the snack, especially the bananas, much to my delight.
That’s it, three simple ingredients: a whole grain, protein, and fruit or vegetable, and you’ve made yourself a healthy snack. The best part is, you can get creative with whatever you have around the house. Have some yogurt? Toss in some granola and berries. A little cheddar cheese? Put it on a cracker with a slice of apple. The combinations are practically endless. So next time you or your kids want a snack, remember the Go, Glow, Grow method.
This month we've been showing love to one of our favorite new local vendors, 88 Acres, which is a family-run business based in Boston, MA that makes allergy-friendly snacks like flavored sunflower seed butter, seed bars, and "seednola."
With food allergies on the rise, both individuals and institutions are looking for delicious, safe options that everyone can enjoy. At 88 Acres, consumer safety is the number one priority. All products are created in a dedicated bakery free from top allergens such as peanuts, tree nuts, wheat, soy, dairy, sesame, eggs, fish, and shellfish.
This commitment to food safety is personal for husband and wife co-founders, Rob and Nicole, who know firsthand just how difficult living with a severe allergy can be. After a scary fourth date, when Rob nearly died from cross-contaminated meal, Nicole started experimenting with baking healthy treats that both of them could enjoy. Eventually, 88 Acres was born!
In addition to creating a safe product, the couple wanted to develop a fun brand that would represent Nicole's ties to the 88 acre family farm where she grew up. They also wanted to help reduce the stigma that can surround allergy-friendly products by making 88 Acres a brand that everyone would want to reach for. Here at ChicopeeFRESH, we think they've done an awesome job! Keep reading to learn more about how we serve 88 Acres seed bars in our cafeterias.
Since the start of the school year, we have been serving up 88 Acres seed bars in our elementary schools as part of our regular breakfast and Breakfast in the Classroom programs. Students have responded really well to the Dark Chocolate Sea Salt and Triple Berry flavors, and we wanted to take advantage of the release of the new Cinnamon & Oats flavor to host some taste tests and bring these delicious snack bars to more students across the district! So we designated February as 88 Acres Month, and scheduled a series of taste tests at Chicopee elementary and middle schools, including Dupont, Streiber, Bellamy, Lambert-Lavoie, and Bowie.
To get middle school students more pumped up about trying this local product, we're hosting Lucky Plate days on March 1st and March 2nd at Dupont and Bellamy middle schools. Five lucky students at each school will win an 88 Acres swag bag with a variety of seed bars and stickers (see below).
If you'd like to try 88 Acres products at home, you can order them here or find them on Amazon or at a store near you! Our personal favorites are the Dark Chocolate Seed Butter and the Apple Ginger and Dark Chocolate Seed Bars. YUM!
The next time your kid is bored with their breakfast, why not let them play with their food? Kids love to get artsy with what they eat, and a healthy way to encourage that creativity is to let them decorate fruit-and-veggie-packed smoothie bowls. A smoothie bowl is just what it sounds like--a thick smoothie poured into a bowl and eaten with a spoon instead of sipped through a straw. Smoothie bowls started gaining popularity in 2015 on social media and food blogs due to their eye-catching color combinations and health benefits.
In Instagram posts and fitness magazine articles, they’re pictured lavishly topped with rainbows of chopped tropical fruit, stripes of nuts and seeds, piles of granola, and sometimes generous dustings of chocolate chips. Common smoothie ingredients include nutrient-dense produce like spinach, kale, acai berries, and avocado. By all accounts, a smoothie bowl for breakfast is a great way to get a bunch of fiber, vitamins, and minerals in your system before you start your day.
If you’ve never had a smoothie bowl, this may sound and look like an expensive, time-consuming, possibly not tasty mess; there are too many toppings to keep up with, and you’re not so sure about vegetable smoothies. Fear not--there’s no need to break the bank to make a beautiful and delicious smoothie bowl. The best smoothie vegetables are spinach, shredded carrots, beets, and kale. Instead of more expensive fruit, opt for frozen bananas, strawberries or peaches. It’s easy to mask vegetable flavors with fruit--just add a larger amount of fruit than vegetables, and you won’t taste any bitterness. For affordable toppings, try whole grain, low-sugar cereal like Cheerios, puffed rice, or shredded wheat, and other items like peanuts, almond slivers, and sunflower seeds. Baking your own granola at home with rolled oats, honey, and cinnamon can be cheaper and healthier than buying super sugary, pre-made granola. Or try sprinkling broken-up granola bars. Save this for a weekend breakfast or after-school snack until your kids find their favorite combinations. They’ll be smoothie bowl building pros in no time.
Here’s a recipe for mix-and-match fruit and vegetable smoothies. For smoothie bowls, use less liquid so the consistency stays thick. That way, it won’t melt by the time you’re ready to eat.
Last week, a class of 5th graders at Stefanik had a lot of fun decorating beet and spinach smoothies. They used Cheerios, sunflower seeds, and nut-free 88 Acres granola bars as toppings and left class with bellies full of a healthy, satisfying snack. Experiment with this at home and see what your kids come up with! Send us pictures at firstname.lastname@example.org.
No, not a human baby--Litwin's first sage sprout! Like clockwork, this little guy just popped up in one of the planters made by Litwin students three weeks ago. Visible are its tiny stem and cotyledons, or first leaves. Along with embryonic roots, cotyledons first form inside the seed and spring out above the ground once planted. Their mission is to begin the cycle of photosynthesis, so the baby plant gets energy from the sun to grow to maturity.
Cotyledons look different from a plant's true leaves, which we use to tell different plants apart. Once these round and stubby baby leaves soak up the sun, the plant will grow its characteristic long, gray-green, fuzzy true leaves and give off its trademark peppery scent. Yum! We are well on our way to a flourishing indoor garden.
The ChicopeeFRESH team is a group of creative individuals who are working to feed Chicopee students healthy, local and FRESH foods each day.