The Green Cuisine at Sidwell Friends School
The Green Cuisine at Sidwell Friends School
Sustainability certainly involves conscious choices, but for us providing a “green cuisine” is more about who we are. There are environmental, ethical, and health reasons for developing a green cuisine. Food services are notorious for waste: factory farming, transportation, spoilage, chemicals, trash, water and energy usage, and so on. Where there is so much waste, there is an opportunity to make a difference, each day, through our practices and choices. From what we serve, to how we clean up, we are committed to understanding and reducing our impact on our natural resources.
Sidwell Friends has been especially committed to having a cleaner and greener food program since 2004. Several things drive this interest: we feel a responsibility to provide quality ingredients since young bodies are eating them and we serve a lot of food, so we can make a real difference by choosing foods and methods that are less harmful to the environment. Since 2007, when Sidwell partnered with Meriwether Godsey, this notion of green cuisine has grown and strengthened due to the institutions’ like mind” on this subject. Like anything, taking small steps at first is great for establishing buy-in. Sidwell started with staples like organic milk and all-natural meats and cheeses. This has grown to become a more comprehensive green cuisine that includes local bakery goods, organic breads, and local produce, which are all used to provide attractive, varied, and nutritional meals.
What We Strive for in a Green Cuisine
To have a green cuisine means the menu planning process must, wherever possible, incorporate ingredients and/or practices that are truly sustainable. Our menus, thus, are:
Seasonal: The ingredients, preparation methods, and dishes all reflect the seasons. A fall menu might include carrot and locally-grown apple soup or arugula and radicchio salad, and a winter meal might feature hearty comfort foods. In the spring, we might see sautés and lighter vegetarian soups and in the summer light fresh salads and cold soups. This allows us to use more local ingredients, maximizing freshness and minimizing the distance food is transported, thus saving energy, reducing pollution, and supporting local farmers and merchants.
Mindful of how much meat we serve: Reducing meat is better for our health and our environment because doing so reduces factory farming, water contamination, land degradation, and greenhouse gases. One way we reduce meat consumption is through the Meatless Monday initiative.
Healthy and nutritionally rich: Our menus are produced with the help of Meriwether Godsey’s menu team which includes our Corporate Chef, Chefs from around the company and the Company Registered Dietitian. Read on for more details about the food choices and ingredients we use.
Each of our food-related goals is reflected in the menu and witnessed in the food served.
From Farm to Sidwell: Maximizing Local and Sustainable Foods
To promote wellness and sustainability we try to maximize the use of local and regional ingredients and foods. We have been fortunate to learn of local food sources both directly and indirectly, and have also taken an active role in seeking sources out. Sometimes they deliver, but often we pick up the food ourselves on weekends.
Sources of Our Local Produce
First Choice Produce provides us local and often organic fruits and vegetables all year-round from Mennonite farmers in Southern Maryland. During the warmer months this means lettuce, cucumber, squash, tomatoes, beans, peaches, and apricots.
Toigo Orchards (whom we found at a farmer’s market) provide us apples, pears, peaches, apricots, cherries, cucumbers, plums, tomatoes, blueberries, and strawberries.
We participate in a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) coop weekly through Great Country Farm in Bluemont, Virginia. The students have been very interested in this concept and have taken the idea home with them!
Sources of Our More Sustainable Ingredients:
- Mountainaire Chicken (Breasts, Drumsticks, Wings) – from Delaware, Maryland and North Carolina – they partner with local farm communities to raise chickens in environmentally controlled houses providing proper temperature, clean water, room to roam.
- “Certified Humane” Cage Free Eggs – produced by Farmers Organic Foods who supports small organic and cage free chicken farms.
- Certified Organic Milk – by Natural by Nature from Pennsylvania, the cows are grass fed and on generational family farms that are Amish and Mennonite.
- All Natural Creekstone Beef – this assures no-antibiotics, no hormones, no artificial ingredients, 100% vegetarian diet, humane animal handling practices.
- Rudi’s Organic Bread – certified organic grains, no chemical fertilizers, pesticides, or herbicides; no artificial ingredients; slower baking process to retain nutritional value
- Yogurt – Locally produced from an organic coop
- Natural Choice Deli Meats – no artificial ingredients, no preservatives, no added nitrites or nitrates, gluten free, transfat free, no added MSG.
Foods We Emphasize and Foods We Avoid
During the school year, students, faculty, and staff can visit the hot bar for a main entre’e (there is always a vegetarian option) and cooked vegetables. We emphasize serving a lot of nutritious-rich dark green leafy vegetables such as kale, broccoli, and spinach; we almost solely use fresh herbs rather than dried herbs, and they occasionally come from the Lower School or Middle School rooftop gardens. The salad bar always has a freshly prepared soup and several prepared salads. A sandwich bar allows diners to prepare their own sandwiches with natural deli meats and cheese, and a fruit and yogurt bar offers a wide variety of fresh and cut up fruits and yogurt each day. Very occasionally, we serve a special dessert.
We avoid processed foods, added MSG, trans fats (we are trans fat free with all of our oils), fried foods (we do not have a fryer), added sugar sweets (traditional desserts are offered only as a special treat, while fresh fruit and yogurt are offered daily), high mercury fish, high fat ingredients and recipes, and non-seasonal foods that need to be imported.
We have found Sidwell students to be very open to new foods and tastes, but the number one favorite dish still is homemade mac and cheese! Even though we don’t have a fryer, the kids really like our baked French fries, which, like dessert, are offered only as a special treat.
Going Beyond the Menu and Ingredients
Beyond the menu and ingredients, our “green cuisine” also focuses on the following practices:
Scratch cooking (little to no processed or frozen foods)
Using encores – otherwise known as “leftovers” For us, using perfectly good foods that didn’t get eaten the first time around is one of the best ways we can be more sustainable. There are few things more wasteful than having wholesome food end up in the trash. We are very creative with how we use things in “encores.” Any main item that “qualifies” can turn into a salad, soup or side. Foods that are safe but not suitable for encores are picked up by the DC Central Kitchen for service to people in need.
Teaching food intelligence – At the Lower School we use meal-time to educate students from where food on the menu originates (there is a large world map on the dining room wall), what it does for our bodies, and more. Sometimes an ingredient comes from our own First Grade Garden, even if it is only a few scallions. The kids go wild over trying food that fellow students have grown! Hearing about a food’s origin or smelling the herbs used in soup is more enticing than being told something is “good for you.” We use posters and maps to reinforce these messages. Parents tell us their children try foods at school they would never get at home. Developing food awareness is part of having a “green cuisine.”
Recycling – At Sidwell this means glass, aluminum, plastic, office paper and cardboard. We remove the tops and bottoms of cans in order to flatten them, so in training staff we talk about “reduce, reuse, recycle, respect.” We took pictures and posted them to make the process more fun and to remind everyone of the “how to.” We reuse aluminum pans and lids and plastic containers whenever possible. We make our own vinaigrettes and other dressings and we reuse containers for this purpose.
Composting – Students in the Upper School Eco Club collect kitchen scraps twice a week. The Buildings and Grounds staff uses the compost on campus.
Using fewer disposables – We have made huge steps in reducing the number of disposable items (for carryout) and those we do use are compostable and/or recyclable. Fabri-kal makes drinking cups from natural resins that are compostable in municipal and industrial facilities. Enviroware™ produces compostable plates, bowls, and even utensils.
Serving Ethnic foods – Again, to appreciate the connection we have to food, we promote recipes and ingredients that are used near and far. Here is a sample menu featuring Ethiopian foods:
- Soup: Vegetable Soup with hot spices
- Entrée: Ethiopian Chicken Stew
- Vegetarian Entrée: Ethiopian Lentil Bowl
- Vegetables: Ginger Root Roasted Veggies
- Salad: Roasted sweet potato and spinach
- Bread: Injira Bread
Finances of a Green Cuisine
One of the best ways to operate a more affordable dining program is to scratch cook and to control how much you throw away. Students filling their plates with only the amount of food they will eat and not throwing excess food away and preparing foods with whole ingredients are actually less expensive than using prepared and processed foods. We also believe that offering more fruit, vegetables, grains, protein salads and composition salads (salads containing more than one main element that are the results of the creative urge of the chef. Examples might include a salad of pears, bleu cheese and lettuce or tuna, potatoes, and green beans), is healthier, tastier and provides more variety on the plate and less demand on higher cost items such as the traditional approach in which the entrée is a meat.
Challenges to Developing a Green Cuisine
The first logistical challenge involved facilities and having the right kind of equipment. For example, we went from having temporary cold holding equipment – plastic tubs with ice - that had to be re- iced each day to cold display units not requiring ice. This enabled us to provide more foods in this setting and to present them in a more appealing way.
Finding sources that can assure us ingredients with integrity is an ongoing challenge. Sourcing organic milk that was affordable and of the right quality, for example, was difficult, but we stuck with it and now have a successful relationship with an organic milk vendor.
Together, we have approached these initiatives with a spirit of “we can figure it out.” Balancing patience and persistence is key!
The Rewards of a Green Cuisine
Being sustainable means being conscious about everything we do from the food ingredients we source and purchase to what we do with leftovers (not allowing ourselves the convenience of simply chucking them in the trash). On the whole, we feel very good about this. Continuing to have community support and interest makes all the difference. This can be really fun and have a huge impact when folks embrace it, want it, and promote it. We love it when people bring us new sources for local produce, for example, or new recipes for how to use some ingredient that is in season. Overall, this has been a very rewarding experience.
Meriwether Godsey is a food service provider and caterer that emphasizes healthy, well-balanced and varied meals with local ingredients. Meriwether Godsey serves independent schools, colleges, long-term care facilities, and other institutions, primarily in the Virginia, North Carolina and Maryland area. Increasing sustainability practices is one of their missions, and they work with to balance environmental responsibility with the needs and goals of each client.