Scott Scanlon – Refresh Editor
Bridgid Doherty has two daughters in the Nardin Elementary School program, fifth-grader Haley Jones and third-grader Sophia Jones, 11 and 8 years old, respectively.
Up until last year, the Nardin cafeteria offered the girls pretty much the same foods their mother remembers eating as a high school student at the school in the late 1980s and early ‘90s: Pizza, fries, chips, cookies and juice.
“It was reheating food,” Doherty told me during an interview for todays WNY Refresh cover story. Today, she is chair of the Nardin Board of Trustees.
Which is why only about 100 of Nardin’s roughly 930 students used to buy lunch; the rest brought it from home.
This year the Nardin “dining hall” serves homemade soup, salads, wraps and water poured from pitchers instead of hawked in plastic bottles. (See a couple of recipes below.)
About 170 students buy lunch on a typical day now, and close to 300 will buy it when some of the more popular items show up on the three-week menu planner, items like homemade pizza and (mostly baked) mozzarella sticks, with Ceasar salad. Or quesadillas with homemade salsa.
The Jones girls are among the converts.
“It does get to the obesity issue in our community and across the country,” Doherty said. “When you’re packing a lunch box, it tends to be processed foods. You’re putting in Fruit Roll-ups and things that don’t have to be refrigerated; (it’s ) the old Twinkie ideas. That’s not the way kids halfway through their day should be eating when they’ve got a full schedule.”
The new way of school eating – homemade scratch cooking – also has changed the way Doherty’s daughter’s approach food at home.
“This morning,” Doherty told me Tuesday, “I was going grocery shopping and I used to ask the kids, ‘What do you want to for dinner?’ It used to be tacos, meatloaf. Now we’re having the conversation that they’d like chicken. Now they’re having onions in their meatloaf. So I think they’re much more adventuresome and much more talkative about what they want to eat.
“I’ve also seen that they’re open to trying new foods.”
It’s precisely the kind of learning curve Nardin hoped to meet when it revamped its dining program this school year, school President Marsha Joy Sullivan said as she sat in the administrative offices as Tempo owner and chef Paul Jenkins, a visiting chef, prepared lunch for students.
“Paul was just telling us downstairs that he thinks our nation undervalues the fact that children like food that tastes good as opposed to processed food that we assume is more kid appealing,” Sullivan said.
Not every school can afford to make all of the changes Nardin has in its food service program, but advocates told me for today’s WNY Refresh cover story that changes can be made incrementally.
The new program also has its financial drawbacks, Doherty said with a laugh, as she recalled chef Mark Hutchinson’s recent visit to the school, and how much it impressed daughter Haley, who has a birthday coming up next week.
“I asked, Where to you want to go? Want to go to Pizza Plant?’ and she said, ‘No, I want to go to Hutch’s.’”
– Scott Scanlon
Now, here are a couple of popular Nardin recipes, downsized for you to try at home:
Vegetable stir fry with brown rice
1-1½ cup brown rice
Prepare brown rice
To make the stir-fry sauce:
1 oz vegetable oil
1 oz fresh garlic, chopped
1 oz fresh ginger, chopped
1/8 tsp crushed red pepper
¼ cup soy sauce
½ tsp cornstarch
To prepare the sauce:
1. Heat oil in small saucepan.
2. Add ginger and garlic. Sweat in oil until golden.
3. Add pepper and sweat 1 minute.
4. Add soy sauce and bring to a boil. Create a “slurry” with the cornstarch by stirring into a small amount of water until it reaches the consistency of cream. Whisk the slurry into the soy sauce mixture to thicken.
To make the stir-fry vegetable:
4 lbs seasonal vegetables, washed and cut into uniform size, could include carrot, broccoli, red bell pepper, celery, green cabbage, zucchini, yellow squash
4 oz bean sprouts
2 oz scallions, chopped
1 oz cilantro, chopped
2 tblsp vegetable oil
To cook the vegetables:
1. Heat oil in a large pan or wok.
2. Add vegetables and stir-fry until tender crisp.
3. Add sauce and bean sprouts. Mix to combine.
Serve over brown rice topped with scallions and cilantro.
To make the meatballs:
1 lb ground beef (Nardin uses locally raised and sourced from Dispenza’s Meat Market)
4 oz bread, cubed
2 oz fresh parsley, chopped
1 oz fresh garlic, chopped
4 oz ricotta cheese
2 oz Parmesan
1 oz olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
To cook the meatballs:
1. Mix all ingredients well.
2. Shape into approximately 24 one-ounce meatballs.
3. Bake at 325 degrees until an internal temperature of 155 degrees is reached.
To make the marinara:
2 tblsp olive oil
1 onion, chopped
2 oz fresh garlic, chopped
1 tablsp crushed red pepper
2 tablsp balsamic vinegar
Tomatoes – use fresh if in season or good quality canned, like San Marzano:
2 cans whole tomatoes (28 oz each), drained and pureed or equal amount of fresh tomatoes
Salt and pepper to taste
Cook the sauce:
1. Heat oil.
2. Add onion and garlic. Sweat until softened for 8 to 10 minutes.
3. Add pepper and balsamic.
4. 2 minutes later, add tomato.
5. Simmer 20 minutes.
6. Add fresh basil.
7. Season to taste with salt and pepper and pinch of sugar.
8 bomber rolls
16 oz marinara
8 oz mozzarella, shredded
To assemble the bombers:
1. Place three meatballs on each roll.
2. Top with marinara and shredded cheese.