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Chef exchange program brings new plant-based recipes to school menus

The nutrition team at Cedar Tree Academy partnered with commercial chefs to share best practices and come up with new dishes that would please both students and families.
Chef Bonnie Moore talks to the nutrition team at Cedar Tree Academy
Photo: Real Food for Kids

Cedar Tree Academy students in Washington, D.C., get to enjoy a variety of plant-based dishes this school year as part of a new chef exchange program between the school’s foodservice provider, DC Central Kitchen, and local nonprofit Real Food for Kids.

DC Central Kitchen began working with Real Food for Kids during the pandemic to help provide emergency meals to families and students who were learning remotely.

As the pandemic continued to evolve, the two groups looked for additional ways to collaborate and created the chef exchange program to continue their partnership this school year.

The two-week program, which finished this month, brought commercial chefs and Cedar Tree nutrition professionals together to develop plant-based recipes that could be used both in schools and in the commercial space. The program also allowed for the two groups to share best practices and teach new skills.

“It's been a lovely alignment of two industries that are around food and feeding people, but they manifest themselves in very different ways,” says Bonnie Moore, chef and executive director for Real Food for Kids.

Creating the recipes

With limited equipment in the Cedar Tree kitchen, the group focused on simple preparations and fresh produce.

For participant Ben Lin, chef and CEO of B Lin Catering, working in a kitchen with little more than warming boxes was something he could relate to. “Coming from catering, that’s oftentimes all we have to work with at event spaces, so I was able to help with that,” he says.

The team came up with three different items: a Cedar Tree Slushy made with kale and spinach that was inspired by the slushy machines found in convenience stores; a pear vinaigrette that can be used for salads or as a fruit and vegetable dip; and a pumpkin soup, which incorporates Cedar Tree’s October Harvest of the Month vegetable and will continue to be served in the cafeteria as the weather gets colder.

All three recipes were met positively by students and parents during a recent tasting day held at the school.

Looking toward the future

With a handful of new recipes under its belt, Cedar Tree’s nutrition team is looking to grow the partnership with Real Food for Kids and connect more families to fresh produce.

“We are really trying to see how we can continue this and expand it and get more families involved,” says Cedar Tree Academy CEO LaTonya Henderson.

Real Food for Kids offers weekly produce boxes to parents at the school, so the team plans to make sure the boxes include produce that is being served at lunch, as well as at-home recipe ideas. It's also considering a Zoom cooking class to show families how to make the pumpkin soup.

“My mission is to blur the lines between restaurant food, school food and home food, and create a culture of healthy food,” Moore says.

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