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All About Food:

On a mission to improve the school lunch menu

January 15, 2010|By Elle Harrow and Terry Markowitz

It seems that every time we turn around chef Azmin Ghahreman of Sapphire is involved in something new. This time it’s Every Child is My Child, a school lunch program. As the father of three young children, he was inspired by the Obama administration’s focus on better nutrition for schoolchildren to get involved in the lunch programs at the schools his children attend — St. Anne’s and St. Margaret’s.

Eschewing the usual diet of starchy, packaged and processed fare that is partly responsible for the epidemic of obesity in this country, he prepares menus based on the Mediterranean diet with its balance of protein, whole grains, vegetables, fruits, dairy and healthy oils. Ghahreman grew up spending time on his family’s farms giving him an early understanding of growing food naturally and an appreciation for clean pure flavors.

Of course, he realizes that it is a challenge to get children to change the way they eat. His team worked closely with a registered dietitian, pediatric medical specialists as well as parents and children to get their input. As we learned from Debra Appel of the Laguna Beach Unified School District, getting children weaned away from unhealthy choices is a slow process but it can be done, for example, her success with the salad bar at Top of the World Elementary School.

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Ghahreman began in the spring of 2009 by launching a program of hot lunches, a la carte breakfast and lunch selections as well as healthy snacks for hungry St. Anne students. He was able to do this because his restaurant and catering business operates three kitchens and has a fleet of refrigerated delivery trucks and vans that deliver food made fresh daily, for same-day consumption.

His commissary kitchen in Irvine provides food for 800 kids. Knowing full well from his experience with his children that each one wants something different, he provides a range of choices every day. Each lunch meal is craftily packed with a daily healthy snack, a choice of organic milk, spring water or juice, and one of two different entrées: a very healthy one such as turkey Bolognese with whole wheat pasta or a more familiar one like pepperoni pizza.

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