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Living Well: SI students have an abundance of fresh choices in new food program

Right: SI’s salad offerings include Greek, pear and gorgonzola, caprese, buffalo chicken, grilled chicken Caesar, Asian chicken, spinach and Cobb.

Back in the 1970s, students who forgot their bag lunch at home sought out vending machines that sold stale sandwiches, prompting many upper classmen to head to Doggie Diner, Herbs Deli or another local eatery for sustenance.

Beginning last August, students now have healthy alternatives to the junk food days of yore. (No offense to Herb or to his famous meatball sandwiches.)

Students now can purchase food all day long. Breakfast grab-and-go items are available starting at 7:45 a.m., hot meals, sandwiches, salads and snacks are available in the Commons until 1:30 p.m. and additional food is available in the Snack Shack in the Cowell Pavilion between 2 and 5:45 p.m.

The food offered is both healthier and fresher than in previous years thanks to a coordinated effort by the school to promote overall health and wellness. The new class schedule now gives students more opportunities to eat before, during and after school, something administrators hopes they do, citing research showing that proper nutrition benefits the mental and physical health of students. For example, students and athletes who skip breakfast generally learn and train less effectively and suffer needless fatigue.

“SI wanted to be able to provide food all day to meet the needs of the students’ busy schedules,” noted SI CFO Terry Dillon, who was among those considering outsourcing the school’s food service program given the expanded hours and outreach. She eventually decided that SI could restructure its operations and continue operating its own kitchen, “as providing fresh and healthy food is a concrete way to live the Jesuit mission of cura personalis – care of the whole person.”

Last summer, she hired an outside consultant to assist in the transition: Kathleen da Silva, a registered dietitian and owner of KdS Consulting. She knows the SI community well thanks to her many connections, including her sister Mary Abinante, who works in Adult Spirituality; her brother, Paul da Silva ’75; and her husband, Michael Cullinan ’80. She also saw the school through the lens of an SI mom when her children, Jack ’09 and Rebecca ’11, attended the school.

Her involvement with SI’s food services goes back to 2007, when she met with staff working on the early stages of the school’s Wellness Program. Several coaches also invited her to speak to their teams about the importance of nutrition and how to fuel their bodies to prepare for competition.

This year, she worked with the kitchen staff to craft a food program that offers balanced meal options containing protein, grains, fruits and vegetables both for sit-down meals and grab-and-go items. “It was a large task to redefine procurement, production and labor to meet the new food service times and food guidelines,” she noted. “However, the incredible staff met the challenge.”

Last August, the new student food services opened and immediately doubled the volume of food available to students. Staff now prepare and cook almost all lunches from scratch and avoids processed food in the kitchen. The staff now only opens cans for tomato sauce and makes everything else from fresh ingredients, including the soups and chili.

The food service staff prepares all sandwiches and salads each morning along with a variety of fresh fruit, yogurt parfaits and smoothies. In addition to healthy options, Commons cookies are still baked each day, and It’s It ice cream are available at lunchtime.

“There’s a place for fun food,” added da Silva. “We want to offer strong food as fuel, but that’s not to say that food can’t be pleasurable or include treats. There’s nothing wrong with having a cookie after lunch.”

The team learned as they went, initially offering a full hot breakfast selection in the morning. Eventually they discontinued the hot breakfast as they learned that students preferred grab-and-go items, such as smoothies and breakfast parfaits (prepared with fresh fruit and yogurt) pancakes, French toast and hard-boiled eggs.

“The challenge SI faces is preparing food to meet the needs of a variety of students,” added da Silva. “A six-foot-tall male athlete needs more food than a four-foot-eleven female. We try to be consistent in offering a meal that meets the average, with healthy and tasty extras for those who need more.” SI also provide vegetarian options, such as vegetarian sandwiches, pita bread and hummus, smoothies and yogurt, and once a week the hot entrée is meatless.

Student reaction is both positive and guarded. Some students interviewed said they found portions a bit on the small side, while others loved the increased hours of operation.

“I like how everything is much healthier,” said Nasser Al-Rayess ’14. “But it has its drawbacks. I miss the old sandwiches like the Spicy Gobbler. However, the beef stew is by far one of the best plates along with the clam chowder bowls. The increase in healthiness is definitely a positive change this year.”

Students also praised the increased variety in food. Smoothies, for instance, come in guava, peach, pomegranate, mixed berry and piña colada, and salads include Greek, pear and gorgonzola, caprese, buffalo chicken, grilled chicken Caesar, Asian chicken, spinach and Cobb.

Josh Kendall ’15 praised this variety, noting that “as good the bread bowls are, the frequency got a little repetitive last year.” He also praised the increased hours of operation. “I can buy food in the morning if I need to get to school earlier, and after school, instead of getting something from the vending machine, I can get something from snack shack in the foyer.”

Jordan Solomon ’14 also praised the extended hours of operation. “Now I can avoid waiting in long lines by getting lunch during my resource period.” Lauren Mufarreh ’15 still hopes for longer hours, as the snack shack closes at 5:45 p.m., shortly before she returns to school from crew practice.

Teachers have the same healthy food options as students, as the offerings in the faculty dining room mirror the changes in the Commons. Both students and faculty find that the kitchen now prefers baking and steaming instead of frying. Food also has lower sodium content, and salad dressings are served on the side. Faculty also have a salad bar with vegetarian soups and toppings to choose from.

Some meal costs have increased to reflect the additional cost of the fruit and vegetable servings; however, most prices have remained the same as last year. “The increased sales and efficiencies in the current food service operation should enable the school to explore the use of more organic, seasonal and local fruits and vegetables without major cost increases next year,” added da Silva.


Posted by Mr. Paul J. Totah on Friday March, 15, 2013 at 12:24PM

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