When I was creating DAA, one of my big priorities was to create a really healthy, innovative food program. I wanted to feed our kiddos great healthy, local food and teach them about it (and have menus match up seamlessly with the seasons and the food lessons.) I'd spent time at the Edible Schoolyard and Kitchen Classroom at MLK in Berkeley, CA and was so inspired. I wanted our kids, and all kids in Detroit, to have the same level of access to both good food and a dialogue around what good food is and what it can be.
I am really proud of where our food program is, though it does fall short of my grand vision. (A grand vision that I should have known might not be realistic in a school's very first year.)
At DAA, we often speak in terms of "glows" (something we like, are proud of, something that is done well) and "grows" (components that could use some work, some revision, and have room for improvement.)
Here are some glows and grows of our food program as it stands now. We are excited for it to keep evolving and appreciate you following along with us!
- We feed our students three meals (and snack) every day. These meals are healthy and tasty and our kids eat them. (Our staff eats the school lunches, which should tell you how good they are.)
- Our snacks are things like carrots & hummus, celery & SunButter (peanut butter substitute made from sunflower seeds). Our breakfasts are things like yogurt, granola, and berries, and zucchini muffins with a banana. Our kids were less than thrilled for the first couple weeks, but we all held our ground and now they really love it.
- Our kids eat salads for lunch and veggie wraps for dinner like it is no big deal. It is so cool to watch.
- We don't allow sugar within our walls and stick to it tightly. No cupcakes for parties, no sugary breakfast bars, no cookies for the holidays. As far as sugar goes, our students really get it. Was I their favorite person for the first few weeks? No. Do I still have to have uncomfortable conversations with parents when we confiscate cookies brought in for various reasons? Yes. Everyone understands though, and sees that the results outweigh the sacrifices. Our kiddos are generally super balanced, even keeled, and you don't see a lot of the wild behavior that you see in schools with a more lax sugar policy.
- We've never served red meat within our walls. We stick to leaner, cleaner meats for our kiddos.
- We create a lot of waste. This is my biggest area of stress. It really drives me nuts how much waste we create as a small school, using disposable trays and utensils every day for three meals a day. It is the first thing I will fix when we are at our permanent location.
- We don't make the food onsite. Above, I note our location. We lease our current facility and there is not a kitchen that is up to the Michigan Code for schools for food preparation. We don't have $100,000 dollars to improve a space that is not ours, so we work with a food service provider who delivers food for us each day. When we renovate/build our future home, having a kitchen that is up to Code will enable us to prepare our meals onsite (and not use disposable items, but wash and reuse things instead) and it will be really great.
- We are a little lacking in the innovative, super local, ever-changing, season-facing menus that I wanted so badly. Because we work with a service provider, we don't get to micro-manage every single detail of the menus like I would like. (Those beans in the burrito -- could they be grown in Michigan? The lettuce there -- it would be great if that was grown in Detroit.) Our service provider can really only do so much (for a lot of reasons), so we cut corners in a lot of places that make me cringe sometimes.
- I'd love a meat-free and vegan alternative to every meal, every day. I am a vegetarian and want our kids to be able to make whatever choice they want to and still have something to eat at lunch!