While other school lunch programs might plot to slip in a meatless Monday entree, Heather Forrester's menu planning includes the opposite challenge.
When are the students going to get meat this month?
At the Aurora Waldorf School, a private West Falls institution with about 180 students, Forrester produces school lunches that challenge notions about what kids will eat. Served four days a week at $3 per meal, lunches emphasize unprocessed ingredients in mostly vegetarian dishes, with an emphasis on organic and local raw materials.
Forrester does most of the work herself, including shopping, to put out 80 to 150 lunches daily. Since the lunch program began in September, Forrester said, more than a few kids have had their palates expanded by dishes like broccoli pasta, sesame noodles and Thai lemongrass soup.
"At the beginning of the year it was more challenging to get the kids to try new things," said Forrester, whose resume includes Rue Franklin and other restaurants. Since then, "moms have thanked me for serving things their kids haven't had -- if their peers are eating it, they'll generally try it too."
What's for lunch today?
"Wild rice and chicken herb salad on a bed of greens with some feta on top. One of my favorites."
Was the chicken organic?
"The first goal is not processed, whole ingredients. We've been working on local and organic sourcing. I'm working with price on a couple of farmers. It's proved challenging here in Western New York to be able to get organic. Fresh, whole is first; local and organic is second."
You say 90 percent of kids aren't vegetarians, but you serve meat once or twice a month?
"We use meat more as a garnish. A lot of people who believe in healthy eating don't make meat the focus of the meal. Between that and the cost, we find it much more reasonable to go with vegetarian, with meat on occasion."
During the year, more students have become more adventurous?
"They trust what I'm feeding them. They're very willing to try it. Our alternative meal is always available: Celery, carrots, homemade hummus or yogurt dip, organic corn chips. We were preparing a lot of alternatives at the beginning of the year. Now it's one, or it's three, out of 100 kids."
Have you changed your cooking style to aim at converting kids?
"The biggest thing I find is that I need to cut down on spices. If I think it needs garlic and salt, it's probably just right for the kids."