Celebrating a Nutrition Revolution In The South Bronx

Celebrating A Nutrition Revolution In The South Bronx

Mon 08 Aug 2011

Story by Noemi Santana

On Tuesday, May 24th, 2011, Family Life Academy Charter School (FLACS), celebrated one year of a major change in the way their food is prepared and how students are fed.

This little school of just approximately 368 students, situated within the poorest congressional district in the USA, took it upon itself to do something special for its students. Ms. Marilyn Calo, the principal of FLACS, led the nutrition revolution in a school where 90% of the children get free or subsidized lunch and breakfast because they fall below the poverty improving the food they eat. Chef Bennet Fins, a professional chef, was hired to cook nutritious, portion-controlled meals daily.

The results after the first year have been rewarding. Parents and teachers note differences in how the children have been affected by this change and how this shift has permeated the entire school. Children plant and cultivate flowers, herbs and vegetables. There is an after school cooking club and the after school program teaches relaxation through meditation and yoga as a means of helping students cope with their environment. Health and nutrition now form part of the curriculum.

Based on the philosophy that education is more than just teaching academic subjects, FLACS takes a holistic approach that also includes character building plus health and nutrition as a way of achieving good scholastic results. The program has the support of the Board of Trustees who gladly approved the program and budget for meals that cost no more than the State approved pre-packaged lunches.

Chef Bennett describes his job as much more than just cooking. He is in The FLACS Café every day serving lunch to the kids and engaging them in daily chats encouraging them to try new foods. Children ask questions about the food and sometimes need convincing to try new things. They also see staff and teachers eating the same food as they eat and enjoying it and are more prone to try it themselves.

At the FLACS Café, breakfast can include whole wheat mini bagels, fresh fruit, yogurt with granola prepared daily by the chefs. At lunchtime, children choose from a fresh array of salad fixings from a salad bar and the "sweet" of the day comes from a fruit bar with two choices. Soup is also served daily to complete a wholesome, portion-controlled lunch for children whose main or only meal can sometimes be what they eat in school.

At our celebration in May a short video documenting the nutrition revolution was presented at the breakfast celebration along with the introduction of A Healthy Journey, a book documenting the five-year journey, followed by a tour of the FLACS Café.

Chef Bennett Fins and his staff prepared breakfast so guests could taste for themselves the food FLACS' children enjoy every day. Ms. Marilyn Calo, acknowledged the contributions of those who staunchly stood with her during this change, in particular Mr. Francisco Lugoviña, Chairman Emeritus of FLACS, who initiated the shift. Mr. Lugoviña started flower and vegetable gardens with the children and parents of the school and participated in the research that supported the changes.

The event on May 24th was a call and a challenge to other public schools to take a serious look at the quality of food they are serving their students and to explore how they can replicate what FLACS has accomplished.

About the author: Noemi Santana is the Communications and Resource Enhancement Officer for Family Life Acadmeny Charter School


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