Cool School Food

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by Wynnie Stein

Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution is inspirational for me. He went right to the source of why our schools serve unhealthy food by questioning the bad ingredients and revealing the resistance to change from folks who are trained to always look for the cheapest alternative. And please do not even get me started about how the food industry and bureaucratic policies mostly limit ingredient options to institutional food products loaded with sodium, nasty additives, hidden sugar and high fructose corn syrup. There seems to be tremendous institutional inertia that prohibits changing what we are willing to feed our children.

Given the opportunity to help make a change from my experience as a Moosewood chef, I joined a great group of women who are improving Ithaca’s school district menus, one recipe at a time. We call ourselves Cool School Food and the work has given me a chance to experience the real world challenges for schools. Our focus has been on developing more plant-based menu items using locally grown organic beans, and finding out what is doable for the already stressed production kitchen. I also, just like Jamie, had to win over the main cook who does not eat beans – ever!

 Not all the recipes that we have created were hits, and we had to go back to the kitchen a few times and try again. We offer tasting days when the children are given the opportunity to vote on a newly developed recipe with ballots that give the option to circle a smiley or frowny face, so that even the kindergarteners can vote. We also set up a table with ingredients that students can touch and smell, as well as theme music, balloons, stickers and recipes to take home.

Last year, we developed a recipe for a contest that was initiated by Michelle Obama encouraging chefs, schools, and school children to work together to create a healthful recipe – site. We were thrilled that our Mexican Lasagna recipe that we developed for the contest has been chosen to be included in a newly released, nationally distributed USDA cookbook that offers healthy recipes for schools and families.…/1009-fiesta-mexican-lasagna

Our most popular recipes with the kids so far are a very flavorful, lemony Hummus (served with carrot sticks and whole wheat pretzels) and “Pasta Fazool” (the colloquial name for Pasta e Fagioli). The sauce for the pasta is loaded with chopped veggies, white beans and iron-rich kale. I was beaming the other day during the tasting at Belle Sherman elementary school when over 200 children were asked to raise their hand if they wanted this pasta dish on their school menu. Every child and adult  hand in the room went up. Wow!


Moosewood Restaurant is proud to partner with Cool School Food, the signature program of New York Coalition for Healthy School Food (NYCHSF), a statewide non-profit, with programs in Ithaca and New York City. In Ithaca, the partners are NYCHSF, the Ithaca City School District Child Nutrition Department, Moosewood Restaurant, and Cayuga Pure Organics (growers of local organic beans and grains). The Poster Pasta Fazool was created by NYCHSF’s volunteer graphic designer, Michelle Bando.