On a hot summer day last June, Michelle Obama welcomed chefs across the country to the White House to kick off the “Let’s Move” initiative. In the crowd of 700 sat ECPI’s Culinary Institute of Virginia instructor Chef Jonathan Highfield and eight of his students. The First Lady spoke about the important role chefs play in the nations’ effort to provide all children with healthy food in schools.
The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 (Let’s Move) is an initiative to bring healthy meals to over 31 million children who receive meals through the school lunch program, many of whom receive all of their meals at school. It is also an effort to curb childhood obesity with one out of three American children considered overweight or obese. The bill provides funding and for the first time gives the federal government the authority to regulate food sold at local schools, including the vending machine.
Linda Irby, Assistant Director of Food and Nutrition Services with Hampton City Schools contacted Chef Highfield about helping to create a program to aid the food service operations at Cary Elementary in Hampton, Virginia with about 450 children between pre-kindergarten and fifth grade.
Chef Highfield went to the school and visited with the cafeteria staff about what they were doing. The school has a three-year partnership with Dixon Consolidated Service where the company provides either a fruit or vegetable for all children as a free snack each day. Chef Highfield occasionally goes into the classrooms to deliver the snacks and in many instances uses the opportunity to teach the children about the food, its origins or other uses. He also helps provide insight to the cafeteria staff on creative ways to prepare the food.
Chef Highfield has established health and family nights and teacher programs to teach parents, students and teachers new, creative and easy ways to prepare healthy ingredients. He helped the first and third graders plant a winter garden at the school filled with broccoli, kale and chard. He will return to plant a spring garden in a few months.
The fifth graders will take a field trip to the Culinary Institute of Virginia as teachers begin to discuss potential vocations. Given Chef Highfield’s celebrity at the elementary school, there may be a few aspiring chefs to attend the culinary school in the future.
Chef Highfield is an Executive Pastry Chef and Chef Instructor at the Culinary Institute of Virginia located in Norfolk, Virginia.