Executive chef Teddy Ivanov prepares lunch at Thomas Jefferson School.

Out with the fried foods, fatty meats and sugary sweets and in with the whole grains, lean fish and fresh fruit. Local schools have overhauled their lunch menus in an effort to make healthy food accessible—and enjoyable—for students.

Area school chefs say the days of mass production and processed foods have been replaced with daily meal prep, and fresh, whole foods from salad, fruit and deli bars. “We are changing things because the earlier children learn how to eat well, the better chance we have that they will continue to do this throughout their lives,” notes Thomas Jefferson School’s executive chef Teddy Ivanov. “We are concentrating on tasty, home-cooked foods, more vegetables and fruits, and exposure to new and different tastes.”

At Whitfield School, executive chef Will Matthews oversees every item that comes out of the kitchen—ensuring food is batch-cooked each day for freshness versus cooking items ahead of time. The lunch menu includes fresh whole and seasonal fruit and produce, gluten-free and Kosher meals, whole grain breads and low-fat yogurt.

Villa Duchesne and Oak Hill School also focuses on whole, non-processed foods, with an emphasis on reduced sodium and sugarless sides and desserts. “We do a lot of skinless chicken breast, steamed veggies, pita pizza with a low-fat cheese and baked fish,” says director of finance and operations Bob Carr. “And we only have dessert—non-fat yogurt—available twice a week.” For drinks, the school has substituted soda and fatty milk with 1 percent and skim milk, as well as low-calorie fruit-flavored water.

To ensure the students will eat the healthy meals, local chefs worked with groups of kids and their parents to find out what they enjoyed for lunchtime meals. At Thomas Jefferson School, Metodi also has taste tests with his daughter, who is “very picky,” he says. “Most of all, I make things look appetizing—presentation is so important.”

And City Academy’s executive chef Patrice Mari always is open to students’ suggestions. “I try to serve a healthier version of something they love anyway—nachos, pasta or quesadillas. I also try and make the lunchroom experience fun.” Mari spices it up by periodically serving different ethnic dishes, from Vietnamese to Spanish and Thai, corresponding with the countries students are learning about in the classroom.

With all of these healthy foods made appetizing and fun, local students are sure to eat their vegetables.

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