Focus is on healthier food options
By Shanderia K. Posey
EditorOn hand for the launching of Creativity Kitchen were Patricia Willis, Blackburn Middle School food service manager (from left); Chef Nick Wallace, JoAnn Quillen, retired food manager; and Mary A. Hill, executive director of Food Service at Jackson Public Schools.
Continuing its focus of offering healthy foods to students, Jackson Public Schools launched “Creativity Kitchen: Chef Inspired Cuisine for Healthy Scholars” Monday at Blackburn Middle School.
The pilot program is a partnership with local Chef Nick Wallace, the Mississippi Museum of Art and the Jackson Public Schools Food Service Department.
Wallace, a Blackburn alum, will tweak current menu items and create new ones in an effort to offer students, staff, and educators tasty, yet healthier food choices. As the current executive chef and culinary curator at the Mississippi Museum of Art, Wallace brings a wealth of talent to the program. He has worked as a chef at some of the largest hotels in the nation, including the Marriott and the historic King Edward Hotel in Jackson.
“I understand both the challenge and the importance of providing healthy, exciting meals to students. Students need fuel to learn, and we want to give them high-quality, delicious, and artfully-inspired meals that propel them to achieve and perform at their very best,” Wallace said. “My presence in the schools will also be a resource to those students who may want to consider a career in the culinary industry as an example to the next generation of how rewarding a life in the kitchen can be.”
“We are so grateful Nick has volunteered to give his time,” said Mary Hill, JPS food service executive director. “He has put a twist on healthy eating.”
Starting Monday, students at two JPS middle schools – Blackburn and Powell Middle – will get to try the first revamped meal of Creativity Kitchen. Menu items will include spaghetti with meatballs, veggie flatbread pizza, pizza salad that includes pepperoni, and Wallace’s tomato basil dressing.
Students will not be offered other dressings such as ranch or thousand island flavors. Roasted potatoes, peas and carrots, breadsticks, and fresh fruit cups will also be offered, along with a sugar cookie for dessert. The cookie is more like a biscotti that’s dipped in chocolate on one end.
The excitement of Creativity Kitchen has other middle schools in the district anxious for the program to expand to them. “Everybody wants to know who’s next,” says Hill. A couple of schools will be introduced to Creativity Kitchen each month, and before the end of the school year, all 13 JPS middle schools will partake of creations from Creativity Kitchen.
On the first Monday of each month, new recipes will be introduced in the schools. Parents, who have always been welcomed to eat lunch with their child at school on any day, are encouraged to consider the first Mondays to get a taste of the cuisine themselves.
The JPS program will emulate the Chefs Move to Schools Program launched by First Lady Michelle Obama in 2010 as part of her Let’s Move Initiative. In Chefs Move to School, chefs across the nation were asked to adopt local schools and work with parents, teachers and school staffers to help educate kids on food and nutrition.
With Creativity Kitchen, Wallace will work closely with JPS food service personnel training them to create the new menu items, while ensuring USDA requirements are met. Steps will also be taken to include more locally grown foods into the meals.
The main goal of the program is to expose students to a larger variety of healthy food choices to help them become more informed consumers and educators of nutrition in their own communities.
Hill emphasized that Creativity Kitchen will enhance programs already in place at JPS designed to keep students informed on living a healthy lifestyle.
“We are always looking for things to challenge our students to eat better. Working on consumption and eating habits is just an added piece,” she said.
Hill is also grateful for the program’s partners who share the vision to ensure the program is a success. “To be successful, you have to have partners,” she said.
“Here at the museum, we strive to draw connections between the art in our galleries and our own gardens, including The Payton City Farm Learning Garden, a functioning urban plot that serves as both an outdoor classroom and a source for fresh ingredients,” said Betsy Bradley, director of the Mississippi Museum of Art. “Creativity Kitchen pushes these ideas even further, beyond our walls and grounds and into the public schools, where it can have a wide-reaching and lasting impact.”