Real Food for Kids Chef Exchange Program
The Chef Exchange Program aligns “sister” industries by pairing school nutrition professionals with restaurant chefs to create new, appealing, plant-based recipes for both school and restaurant menus. The collaboration reframes school meals as a guest experience, blurring the lines between school food and restaurant food to create a culture of healthful food.
As consumers and the food industry move toward increased plant-based food choices, school nutrition is exploring ways to incorporate more plant-forward menu items into their operations. Plant-based dishes address a variety of dietary and religious restrictions that have prevented vegan, vegetarian, and halal students from participating in school meal programs. Real Food for Kids piloted this program at an elementary school in DC’s Ward 8 last fall, resulting in 3 plant-based snack recipes that have been served over the last year.
2021: Real Food for Kids (RFFK) launched a multi-week Chef Exchange Program with Cedar Tree Academy, Chef Tim Ma of Lucky Danger, and Chef Ben Lin of B. Lin Catering along with Chef Ed Kwitowski, School Nutrition Director at DC Central Kitchen. Expanding on their partnership during the pandemic to support students and their families experiencing nutrition and food insecurity, RFFK and Cedar Tree Academy paired a school nutrition team with chefs from the hospitality industry as part of an effort to increase the consumption of healthy foods across the Greater Washington Region. Over the 2-week period, the team developed new, plant-based recipes featuring seasonal produce. Recipes were formatted for school food and restaurant production and home use to ‘blur the lines’ between ‘school’ food and ‘restaurant’ food to promote healthy eating habits.
2022: Real Food for Kids identified the opportunity to align Silver Diner and Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) to develop new plant-based school recipes that are appealing and healthy.
- MCPS assembled a group of students in its newly formed School Meals Working Group to inform the future of school food in Montgomery County.
- RFFK arranged introductions between Silver Diner and key players in school nutrition at MCPS.
- Silver Diner’s Chef Ype visited MCPS Division of Food & Nutrition Services facility in Gaithersburg to better understand facility capacity.
- MCPS visited Silver Diner to try its vegan menu with Chef Ype and to gain an overall understanding of a guest-driven recipe development process.
- Ype took MCPS on an R&D tour to understand the process that Silver Diner goes through.
- A suite of 4 plant-based recipes were developed by MCPS with continual feedback from Chef Ype.
- A student and VIP tasting event was held on September 29 with an MCPS Student Focus Group comprised of 22 students who provided feedback reviewing recipes prior to their debut on MCPS school menus later this fall. The discussion was led by Bonnie S. Benwick, the former Deputy Recipe Editor for The Washington Post.