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Eye On Education: ‘Chefs In Schools’ Program Aims To Improve Lunches

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BOSTON (CBS) — When it comes to nutrition or taste, school lunches don’t have the best reputation. The anti-hunger group Project Bread is trying to turn that around with the “Chefs in Schools” program.

Nick Speros is a professionally trained chef who has worked in some well-known restaurants.

Now, he works for Project Bread and goes into the Lawrence public schools to advise the kitchen staffs.

Speros works within the existing budget and turnaround time, but gives the city’s cooks ideas on how to make the meals healthier and tastier.

“We’re always embellishing what we have,” explained Speros. For example, he will chop fresh onions and cilantro and add them to salsa to give it an extra kick.

Processed fish is sprinkled with cumin and coriander before going in the oven to enhance the flavor.

Speros will also adjust the ingredients and preparation to make a version of chicken cacciatore that is feasible in an institutional kitchen.

When asked how this program fits into the mission of Project Bread, Speros said, “The mission of Project Bread is not that the opposite of hungry is full. The opposite of hungry is actually healthy, so we are trying to encourage that in schools.”

Any parent knows getting children to eat vegetables can be challenging. A follow study showed the kids who eat thru the “Chefs in School” program average two more servings a week.”

Anne Marie Stronach, director of nutritional services for the Lawrence public schools, said they will now grind up carrots and put them in spaghetti sauce. “The kids don’t even know they are eating them.”

Stronach said eating healthier helps the kids maintain focus in the classroom.

Another benefit is the new perspective the program is giving to the kitchen workers. “It’s really taken schools that have a kitchen facility that is not state of the art, and showing staff how to maximize the tools they have, and overcome challenges that they thought maybe weren’t possible before,” said Stronach.

Speros laughingly said that each day presents a new challenge when working with children. “When we started serving spinach salad, and they were like why are you serving us grass, why are you serving us leaves?”

The children eating at the Bruce Elementary School said they like the food that now comes out of the kitchen. When one girl was asked if she noticed she was eating healthier now, she responded “No, I just really like it.”

The Project Bread chefs have compiled a free online cookbook with healthy and economical ideas.

If you have a story you would like to see featured in our Eye on Education series, send Paula Ebben an email at EyeonEducation@CBS.com or tweet Paula @PaulaEbbenWBZ

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