When you think of school lunches, miso-glazed chicken and snap peas don't usually come to mind.
The 2- and 3-year-old children at The Little Green Tree House School in Chicago are having miso-glazed chicken for lunch. The tater tots and cheese sticks that populate most school lunch menus can’t be found in this eco-minded daycare/pre-school.
They use Gourmet Gorilla, a Chicago-based, 100 percent certified organic caterer that does so much more, according to co-founder Jason Weedon.
“We really partner with the school. We are not just an organic lunch program, we also provide the educational curriculum that supports our lunches," he said.
Weedon and his partner, Daniele Hrzic, created the curriculum: "not only teaching them how to eat healthier nutrition but also how it impacts the local environment and economy opening them up to other cultures.”
Sourcing from local farmers and finding creative ways to make the menu healthy and appealing to a child’s palette has been their plight since son Max started pre-school and the couple was far from impressed by the food provided.
The couple approached the school to see if they could change it for every student and Gourmet Gorilla was born. Serving only one school in the south loop in their first year, year two grew to 64 schools; 1500 organic meals made from scratch each day.
Their commissary kitchen is in Lincoln Park and they pride themselves on taking meals from the kitchen to the table in less than three hours.
"It's a great idea," says Conscious Living TV’s Bianca Alexander, who has done extensive research into Chicago’s food desserts.
A food dessert is an area where residents lack access to fresh healthy produce. The only food they get is from convenience stores; rich in fat sugar salt all the things that lead to hypertension, diabetes and obesity.
"Most school lunches contain high in fat and sugar basic ingredients that lead to childhood obesity and diabetes on the rise. One in four children in Chicago are likely to develop diabetes in their life and one in four in the nation are obese," she said.
Gourmet Gorilla hopes to expand, but in the meantime, Alexander says we can take action.
"There’s actually legislation: The Healthy Meals Food Act. We as consumers can reach out to our representatives to make sure its passed. This will ensure that kids lunches become healthier and that more vegetarian options are offered," she said.
One of the Director’s of Education at The Little Green Tree House School, Sarah Stiltner, said that although Gourmet Gorilla costs more, it is well worth it.
"Healthy nutrition is one of the most important things aside from education for the parents they want to know that their children are ingesting something that is healthy and good for them. They rave about the menu. It’s posted at front desk every day they always check it out. I have heard many comments from parents and they say, ‘Oh my gosh they eat better than I do at work.’”