Thursday, March 23, 2017

Put your best FORK forward during National Nutrition Month

March is National Nutrition Month! 

Each year the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics develops new topics to celebrate National Nutrition Month. This year's theme, Put your best fork forward, encourages us to consider that every bite counts. Even "small shifts in our food choices, can add up over time."

Here in Somerville we are celebrating National Nutrition Month in a few ways.

~ We are releasing Veggie of the Month kits in each school's library! The kits contain books, taste testing supplies, and a binder with lesson materials for each month! 

~ We are visiting a few PreK-2nd grade classes to "taste-test" the veggie of the month: leafy greens!  In the classroom, we are reading Sylvia's Spinach and making a simple salad dressing to drizzle over spinach! (Be sure to check back later for the results of our visits!) 

Our Wellness Champions and Farm to School Staff are posting bulletin boards and fliers around the schools!

~ Teachers are sharing a brief presentation with their students that encourages them to learn the tools to healthier choices and make small changes each day throughout the month!

~ We're sharing our fun tips toward healthy eating on social media! Follow us on Instagram & Twitter @SvilleFood4Kids to discover what they are! 

How are you celebrating National Nutrition Month?
What little changes can we make in our daily diet to reach a healthier plate?

Get creative and have fun, and remember, each bite counts!


Thursday, January 5, 2017

Mindful Eating: Part 2

How to eat with intention and attention
Lessons from a Raisin
What does it mean to eat mindfully? Last post we learned a bit about how relaxing before diving into a meal greatly improves digestion. Beyond physiological benefits, bringing mindfulness into your daily diet also enhances flavors and appreciation of what is on your plate. This can lead to less wasted nutrients, less over-eating, and even raised awareness of where the food came from and how it was prepared.

To eat mindfully is to eat with intention and attention.

I never thought I would enjoy a raisin. Not even a little. But during a mindfulness exercise in an Environmental Consumerism class in college, my sentiments changed. After staring at this thing for 5 minutes (which felt like eternity) and observing every thing about it: smelling it, holding it, bringing it to my lips, and finally tasting it…I actually started to feel guilty I had neglected raisins all this time. With a new-found appreciation for all factors involved in bringing this raisin from the farm to my plate, and all the sensations that came with observing it, there was no way I was throwing that wrinkly little thing away anymore (my original intention). I actually recall it being the best thing I had eaten all day. And to this day, I never fret the raisin. 

In the cafeteria and at home, mindful eating can be a promising approach to inspire children to try new foods and minimize waste. It can also encourage children to reduce frantic eating that could lead to chronic snacking, overeating, or emotional eating. 

Ready to see how a raisin can teach you too? Here’s the mindfulness activity to try with your classroom, family, or just on your own! 
You can also start trying these tricks during meals*:
  Eat with chopsticks.
  Eat with your non-dominant hand.
  Chew your food 30 to 50 times per bite.
  Eat without TV, newspaper or computer.
  Eat sitting down.
  Put the proper portions of food on your plate and try to make the meal last at least 20 minutes.
*Provided by Brigham and Women’s article Mastering the Mindful Meal by Stephanie Vangsness, R.D., L.D.N., C.N.S.D.

Do you think mindfulness in the cafeteria is realistic? 
If you've tried any of the steps above, how did it go? We want to know!

Written by Devon Byrne, NTP
Food Literacy Educator, Somerville Farm to School Project

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Mindful Eating: Part 1

In order to digest your food properly, your body must be in parasympathetic mode, or in a state of non-stress. Kindergartners know this. Well, they might not know the scientific term yet, but during lunch they participate in 6 minutes of silence; a period they call "Mindful Eating". When asked why they like mindful eating, the children replied, because "it’s quiet”, “I can enjoy my food better”, “I get peace and quiet”, and "it’s calmly”.

Kindergartener teacher Ms. Scrima, and other Kennedy School teachers have been implementing mindfulness in the cafeteria and their classrooms since last year. They are proud to have a lunch period that looks and sounds quite different from the chaotic cafeteria rush other classes often experience. While the students sit silently at the lunch table checking in with their emotions, their digestive systems are also benefitting. Physiologically, only when our bodies are in rest mode can the brain trigger the release of digestive enzymes, which breakdown our food into absorbable nutrients.  If we are constantly in a state of stress, our food will not be broken down properly, which can lead to digestive ailments and nutrient deficiencies.

Think about why some cultures say a prayer before a meal, or sit on the floor to eat…these are ways of turning the "rest switch" on. By getting our students to relax before and during eating, we are helping their lunchtime truly become a moment for nourishment. 

If you are interested in incorporating mindfulness into your daily life or classroom activities, visit the Kennedy Mindfulness Team’s webpage, and follow their 7-week mindfulness program.

Do you practice mindful eating at home or school? If so, please share your techniques!

Devon Byrne, NTP
Food Literacy Educator

Monday, October 24, 2016

Harvest Season in Full Swing at Somerville Public Schools!

We’ve had a busy Fall season in the gardens! This week will wrap up the final, yet very important, chore of “putting the garden to bed”! Parent volunteers, students, and educators have been hard at work since the beginning of school, harvesting and tasting a variety of vegetables, saving tomato seeds, and planting garlic! Now it’s time to say goodnight to the gardens, as we learn about the importance of cover crops, mulching, and how some plants survive during the winter. Lower elementary school students have been engaged and directly involved in making sure our gardens stay healthy over the winter until we wake them up in the Spring!

We also celebrated our annual Corn Shucking and Local Harvest Day! With the help of community partner volunteers (Groundwork, Shape Up, UMass), parents, and students we shucked over 3,000 ears of corn before school even started! The children enjoyed the fruits of their labor with a local beef burger for lunch! Corn Shucking is always a favorite day of the school year for student and staff, and this year proved no different. Thanks to garden champion and parent volunteer, Jen, we have the Healey School's corn data, by the numbers:

number of ears shucked:  480  (8 bags w 60 ears each, the kids did the math)
number of minutes to shuck 480 ears of corn: 32
number of student shuckers:  30 give or take
number of volunteer shuckers: 4
number of staff: 5
number of corn earworms found: 4
corny jokes recited:  2
amount of fun had at Healey on Corn Shucking Day: some things can't be measured.

Local Happenings:
Concord, Massachusetts will host the Farm-Based Education Conference on November 4th-6th
This will be a great opportunity for anyone interested in effectively incorporating gardening into daily school curriculum.

Drumlin Farms, who provides farm fresh veggies to our salad bars, has a long list of exciting classes to meet everyone’s interests! Register here

Monday, June 13, 2016

We joined a CSA!

That's right! Somerville Food and Nutrition Services joined a CSA. A few weeks ago we piloted a Farm Fresh Salad Bar partnership with Drumlin Farm, Lincoln, MA.

What is a CSA?
CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture. According to the USDA, CSA philosophically refers to a "community of individuals who pledge support to a farm operation so that the farmland becomes...the community's farm, with the growers and consumers providing mutual support and sharing the risks and benefits of food production." It can also imply an economic relationship between farmer and consumer, often called subscription farming. In other words, a subscriber agrees to buy a minimum amount of produce at a fixed price, often paying in advance for the subscription.

While we haven't paid in advance, we have committed to buying a minimum of 3 and a maximum of 5 shares (or veggie boxes) each week. This commitment creates a guaranteed market for the farm's produce.

How does the CSA work for our district?
Each week 3-5 boxes of fresh produce are harvested from Drumlin Farm's fields. After being washed and sorted, they are driven only 15 miles to our school kitchens then find their way to our school salad bars and grab-and-go salads. Weekly items include lettuce, kale, spinach, radishes and spring turnips. We also receive other abundant vegetables throughout the season to support the farm and keep our salad bar options exciting.

Hand harvested greens!

Harvest crew

Plants covered in Remay are protected from pests and the elements

Turnips for days

Radish, spring turnips, and spring greens on the salad bar.

What are the benefits and challenges of this partnership?
We asked Lauren Mancini, Somerville Food and Nutrition Services Director, Pauline Uccello, Somerville Food and Nutrition Services Assistant Director and Matt Celona, Lead Farmer at Drumlin Farm to share their thoughts.

1) What are the challenges to sourcing local directly from farms?

"Working with purchasing laws and drafting the appropriate bid and contract language is a challenge.  Also, it is hard for us to accept whole items, such as whole winter squash, that require peeling and chopping. Choosing the right produce is key to success." Lauren Mancini

"Pricing and staying within budget are concerns for us. Limited delivery days and locations can create logistical challenges." Pauline Uccello

"Guessing what kids will want to eat." Matt Celona

2) What are the benefits to sourcing local produce directly from farms?
"Supporting the local farm and exposing children to fresh, local foods." Lauren Mancini
"The produce is very fresh and of great quality. It is also great to know that the students are eating fresh produce from farms right near them that could even visit to see where the produce is coming from." Pauline Uccello
"If we have lots of what we think the kids will like, we can move large quantities more easily within the CSA arrangement. We’re not limited by having to supply a certain amount of any one crop: we can provide more of what’s bountiful and less of what’s not. This is convenient for the farmers." Matt Celona
3) What about the Farm Fresh Salads and Salad Bars are most exciting to you?
"The best aspect is how good the produce looks and tastes- the difference between straight from the farm and from our distributor is really amazing.  It is also exciting that we can create relationships with farmers that have potential to expand to other projects." Lauren Mancini

"To see that students are choosing salad over chicken nuggets is fantastic. Watching them make healthier choices is very rewarding." Pauline Uccello
"We get a lot of satisfaction imagining kids eating our produce at school!" Matt Celona
4) Additional thoughts:

"Purchasing directly from a farm clearly has its hurdles, but once the food comes in and it looks so appealing it makes it all worth it!" Lauren Mancini

"The education department is also very excited this relationship because so many of the children come here on field trips and with their families. It’s great for them to be able to see the name Drumlin Farm on the food they eat every day. They can get more of a connection with the farm, farms in general, and where their food comes from, which is certainly part of the mission of Drumlin." Drumlin Farm Staff

Future partnership
It is clear that constant communication about the students' preferences in relation to available produce is important for continued success of this program. Additional education and promotional materials will be made available to the district and community. We can't wait to see what produce the fall brings!