torsdag 5 mars 2015

School lunches that influence what goes into the family grocery basket

Ali Banzola works as a chef at Drottningdal’s school in Norrtälje, Sweden. We decided to join another school when they went on a field trip to Ali. For several years, Ali has worked consciously to get more students interested and curious about the school meals. The work has paid off. At first his homemade mashed potatoes, made from real potatoes, was met with skepticism, but soon the parents started to get complaints about the food at home instead. Today students notice directly if Ali is forced to add up with instant mashed potatoes.

- Students have become conscious! Now they even give opinions on what meat parents choose in the supermarket! says Ali.

The vegetarian dishes are another area where the children have changed their views. From being debated and rejected by the children, many vegetarian dishes are nowadays on request from the students. How did he do this? Ali mentions several important initiatives that probably have had great effect. 

The dialogue with the diners permeates the entire business. The kitchen door is wide open right in the middle of the school restaurant. Ali is always available and happy to interact with the diners during lunch - talking about the food and encouraging students to taste. Ali visit classes to explain why the menu is formed the way it is. For example, how expensive dishes like burgers can fit in occasionally with the help of less expensive dishes other days. Or how good vegetarian food is for the health, the environment and the wallet. The dialogue with the students is not something burdensome, on the contrary - their honesty and appreciation describes Ali as a clean source of energy.

Ali tried a few days to put "Taste-test" on the menu instead of the name of the dish. Teachers were instructed to ask the children to think of three things - how the dish looks, smells and tastes. After lunch, teachers were to ask the students to share their experiences and guess the ingredients and the name of the dish. The documentation from these lectures offers many intriguing student descriptions and reflections. In 2015, a school garden will be set up where the gardening is linked to teaching and celebrated with a big harvest festival in the fall. Of course the produce will be served in the school restaurant.

Students at Drottningdal’s school know where the school food come from. They talk a lot about how food is produced in Sweden and in other countries. The school and the kitchen have done field trips with students to a dairy farmer, potato grower and pig farmer. The school even bought and followed a whole pig during the fall until slaughter and then cooked and served with great reverence for Christmas dinner. Ali occasionally gets assistance from students in the kitchen. He has specifically asked the teachers to send down restless students to help him out with, for example peeling potatoes or slicing cucumber. Or sometimes he calls in student assistance for time-consuming tasks such as rolling meatballs. In doing this students grow and become great ambassadors for the served food “- I made this!”

It's impressive how Ali manage to integrate the meals in the school's educational activities, and also his contagious commitment and love of both the food and the diners.

The afternoon ended of course with a date for a return visit on the other school. It's awesome what something as simple as a field trip can provide. New ideas and a new perspective on the day-to-day job. Why don´t check out if there´s a business you would like to look up a little more closely, or just have an afternoon tea with!

Ali and his colleague Michaela.
PS. For more inspiration from the school restaurant in Drottningdal´s school check out their Facebook page!

This blogpost was written in English to celebrate the International School Meals Day - 5th of March! You can also find it in Swedish (see previous blogpost).

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