I remember vividly the drab colored plastic tray with four sections. The largest held a portion of mystery meat smothered in dark brown gravy on top of powdery mashed potatoes. The three smaller sections held dollops of a salty canned green vegetable, an unrecognizable gloppy dessert and a small carton of milk. Needless to say, my childhood memories of school lunches are not fond ones. Fortunately, schools in New Orleans now have a nutritious and delicious alternative to the unappetizing school meals of the past.
Consider the sobering statistics: Louisiana is ranked forth worst nationally for childhood obesity, and 39.8 percent of our children and youth are categorized as overweight or obese. With 35 percent of New Orleans households living in asset poverty, it isn’t surprising that local children eat a mere 1.9 servings of fruit and vegetables daily. In 2013, Volunteers of America Greater New Orleans (the nonprofit human service organization dedicated to helping the community’s most vulnerable in 16 parishes throughout southeast Louisiana) acknowledged that not only were these issues causing serious health problems in our youth, but also they had greater implications by inhibiting full potential to be met in the classroom.
The Fresh Food Factor program was born as an effort to widen the accessibility and affordability of healthy meals to local school children and a mission to “nourish their body to nourish their mind.”
A visit to the state-of-the-art 8,000 square foot commercial kitchen off Tchoupitoulas Street opened my eyes to a new world of school meals being offered through Fresh Food Factor. As I entered the building I was struck immediately by tantalizing smells of freshly baked vegetable lasagnas. Using a holistic approach in conjunction with experienced chefs and dieticians, menus are carefully selected with the goal of producing recognizable local foods in a nutritious way.
When students have more energy to perform better in the classroom, they begin to make the connection that healthy lifestyles begin with healthy eating. Helping students realize that just because the food is nutritious doesn’t mean it can’t be good is a hurdle the Fresh Food Factor program is overcoming. Transforming carrots into a mouth watering soufflé or couscous into what’s renamed “chopped rice” are just two of the creative and clever techniques making Fresh Food Factor’s meals such a success with students, parents and school administrators.
The unique relationships shared with each participating school and the focus on customer service is an additional benefit differentiating Fresh Food Factor from other providers, says Program Director Lawrence Dodds. Although Fresh Food Factor provides a whopping 10,000 meals daily to 7,000 children at 17 local schools, every menu is tailored to fit the desires of each individual school. Director of Child Nutrition at Lake Forest Charter School Robin Gorman notes that she’s able to, “… collaborate with Fresh Food Factor and have a working relationship focused on the children’s wellbeing.” Taste testing and student feedback factor heavily into the menu choices in prioritizing the utmost quality of meals despite the volume of production.
Fresh Food Factor’s commitment to nourish and nurture the bodies and minds of local youth from the inside out will have long lasting benefits throughout the New Orleans community. “When children leave lunch with a full belly,” Robin says, “they’re better behaved in the classroom, make fewer trips to the nurse and as a result do better in school. We couldn’t do this without Fresh Food Factor!”
A little more …
For more program information and volunteer opportunities, inquiries should be made to firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 482-2130.