Rachael Ray 0000-00-00 00:00:00
Rachael Ray shares her vision for nourishing a healthier generation. PHOTOS COURTESY OF RACHAEL RAY Rachael Ray “gets it,” when it comes to two of the top challenges that school nutrition operators face in serving healthier meals: funding and kid acceptance. And in an exclusive interview with School Nutrition Editor Patricia Fitzgerald, the immensely popular television personality, author, cook and businesswoman discusses her “long-term commitment” to passing along the passions of her own “healthy relationship with food” to school children in an effort to combat obesity, malnutrition and hunger. Six years ago, as Ray was launching Yum-o!, her non-profit organization to connect children and families with healthy food and cooking (see the box on page 19), she began visiting school cafeterias. Even though she was impressed at some sites by the presence of salad bars and other progressive steps to improving the nutritional quality of school meals, “I was concerned,” she recollects. “Some schools thought they had made great strides, because they had switched from a full-fat cheese sauce to a lowfat cheese sauce, but they were still offering a plate of nachos as a lunch option.” Ray’s unease led to a well-received experiment in which she developed a number of healthy, kidfriendly, cost-appropriate recipes for New York City SchoolFood. This, in turn, sparked other public-private collaborations, including one with the Alliance for a Healthier Generation (see the box on page 20), as well as another recent recipe development project with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Chicago Public Schools and Chartwells-Thompson Hospitality. Last fall, Yum-o! identified favorite recipes for National School Lunch Week. And Ray was on hand when First Lady Michelle Obama unveiled the new school meal pattern regulations in January. Rights & Responsibilities Many would consider this a surprising journey for a professional foodie who readily admits that she didn’t often eat school lunch as a child growing up in upstate New York. Standard cafeteria fare was alien to the youngster, who asked her Sicilian grandfather to pack her lunches instead. “I had a year or two of not being very popular, because my lunch was usually sardines or some sort of baccalà,” Ray recounts, with a laugh. But over time, she admits she did succumb to such conventional school food favorites as pizza and baked chicken. Fast forward to the present. As a successful entrepreneur, Ray believes strongly that “anyone who has any level of success and who has extra time should be doing some kind of community service. And the easiest way to do it is through whatever your language is; my language is food.” But why school nutrition? “I don’t have children, but I think that whether you do or don’t, or whether you have children who are public-school age, everyone in the country should be making sure that more money goes into our public school food, because it is a political necessity,” asserts Ray. “The only even playing field we have to lower the obesity rate and the epidemic of Type 2 diabetes and control the health care costs of our future is to address school food.” Ray’s advocacy for improving school meals isn’t nurtured in a misinformed vacuum about associated real-world challenges. She understands that success is contingent upon better funding: “I spent a lot of my summer last year in Washington, lobbying for the tiny, tiny little increase we got [in reimbursements], and I keep my fingers crossed every day that it doesn’t get taken away.” She realizes there are significant limitations to progress: “[Schools] don’t just need help with food, they need help with the equipment to cook it!” She gets that behavior change requires changes to the whole school environment: While kids deserve a decent meal, they also “should be allowed to sit down for more than 15 minutes to enjoy it.” She recognizes that relentless criticism is counter-productive: “You don’t get very far if you go in [to schools] and attack or accuse or blame.” In fact, Ray knows firsthand that school nutrition professionals are enthusiastically receptive about collaborations toward change: “They get excited, because they are so used to being ignored.” She knows that the answer is not just to serve healthy foods, it’s also to entice kids to actually eat them: “Foods that are good for [children] have to sound as exciting as foods that are not so good for them. When I write for children, that’s my main goal. … Nutrition is about balance. Kids can have a lot of what they like, if it’s given to them smartly. You can make the food fun and cute and still have it be flavorful and sound like a good time.” She believes that even baby steps add up: “You can make small changes. You can look at the buy list to see where you can make swaps, such as whole-grain pasta for white pasta. Or adding carrot purée to macaroniand- cheese. That’s the thing with this issue: It takes so little to bring about great, great change. It’s a terrific thing.” And that’s why Ray is so committed to this goal: “The best news is the kids themselves. If you give children access to good food, they take over; they love it; they retrain their families. For example, if you put a bowl of fruit out over time, the children get used to the taste and then they get excited about it and start taking it on their own.” Citing her admiration for the efforts of First Lady Michelle Obama and President Bill Clinton, Ray is in this for the long haul. “I’d love to be able to look President Clinton in the face one day soon and say, ‘We have eradicated hunger’ or ‘We have gotten our kids’ obesity rates down to less than double-digit numbers’ and ‘We’re on the right track when it comes to eradicating Type 2 diabetes.’ I’d love to have all of us around to see the end of this,” she enthuses, adding, “I just got a little chill! It’s an exciting time!” WANTED: Your Healthy School Meals Calling all school nutrition professionals! You know how much your student customers love all your healthy, tasty cafeteria offerings. But how do they stack up against school meals served by your peers across the country? Entering Rachael Ray’s Yum-o! Healthy School Meal Contest is your chance to find out! Presented by the Alliance for a Healthier Generation, Ray’s Yum-o! organization and SNA, this competition could earn you the opportunity to visit New York City to see a taping of the “Rachael Ray Show” and be featured in School Nutrition magazine. The contest is a new program in a joint campaign by the three organizations to spotlight creative meals served by school nutrition professionals in districts large and small. The judges will be searching for innovative, delicious, nutritious school lunches that appeal to students and can be easily replicated in school nutrition operations. Build your healthy tray, including a meat/ meat alternate, bread/grain, vegetables and fruit. Visit www.healthiergeneration.org for the complete contest rules and requirements, but don’t delay; entries are due by June 15, 2012. CONNECTING & COLLABORATING FOR KIDS Early in Fall 2011, the Alliance for a Healthier Generation and SNA announced a new collaboration to work together throughout the coming year to connect school nutrition professionals with free tools and resources to help improve cafeteria offerings. Among these are six recipes developed specifically for school meal operations by Emmy-nominated television personality and cookbook author Rachael Ray and her Yum-o! charity in collaboration with the Alliance. The three organizations, SNA, the Alliance and Yum-o! are committed to using their combined reach, resources and credibility to work toward the twin goals of combatting child hunger and childhood obesity. “School nutrition professionals are constantly working to offer healthier choices to students, but we will always welcome a helping hand!” noted SNA President Helen Phillips, SNS. “The programs and materials created by the Alliance, including these wonderful recipes from Rachael Ray, are great tools for SNA members working to improve school menus. We are excited to work with the Alliance on new national initiatives.” Among the successful recipes, which were tested in school nutrition operations across the country, are Cheesy Mac and Trees, Silly Chili con Fusilli, Turkey Tacos and Yakitori Chicken Noodle Bowls. You can access these and other recipes at www.healthiergeneration.org. CONNECTING & COLLABORATING FOR KIDS Yum-o! Established by Rachael Ray in 2006, Yum-o! is a non-profit organization whose mission is to empower kids and their families to develop healthy relationships with food and cooking through three core work areas: • Teaching families to cook • Feeding hungry kids • Funding cooking education and scholarships Too many families today don’t know how to cook or assemble basic meals or are simply too pressed for time (or downright tired) to spend much time in the kitchen. Add in easy access to inexpensive food with low nutritional value and it’s understandable why we face a national crisis in the deterioration of healthy eating habits. Ray and Yum-o! believe that most parents—and their kids—are eager to make better food choices, if given the necessary tools. “We want to make food fun, fast and affordable for American families,” says Ray. “Our goal is to get great recipes out there and to listen to parents’ and kids’ concerns about health and nutrition—and what their kids are eating both at school and at home.” Visit www.Yum-o.org to access recipes, view innovative programs, engage in an online community and learn more. CONNECTING & COLLABORATING FOR KIDS Alliance for a Healthier Generation A joint initiative of the William J. Clinton Foundation and the American Heart Association, the Alliance for a Healthier Generation was launched in 2005 to address one of the nation’s leading public health threats: childhood obesity. The Alliance works to positively affect the places that can make a difference in a child’s health: homes, schools, doctors’ offices and communities. Through its Healthy Schools Program, more than 14,000 schools are working to create environments where physical activity and healthy eating are accessible and encouraged. The Healthy Schools Program Framework helps schools identify specific practices to create healthier campuses through policy and systems review, school meals, competitive foods and beverages guidelines, health and physical education and student and employee wellness. In addition to working with Rachael Ray, the Alliance also has developed a series of school-friendly recipes with the help and support of celebrity foodie and “iCarly” star Reed Alexander. From Asian Salad Bowl to South of the Border Salad Pizza, the recipes meet both the Alliance’s nutritional criteria and recent changes to federal standards for school meals. They were piloted at six school districts across the country. These, Ray’s recipes and many other resources are available at www.healthiergeneration.org. CONNECTING & COLLABORATING FOR KIDS School Nutrition Association The School Nutrition Association (SNA) is a national, non-profit professional organization representing 55,000 school nutrition professionals across the country. SNA and its members have been advancing the availability, quality and acceptance of school nutrition programs as an integral part of education since 1946. SNA offers its members education and training, networking opportunities, grants and scholarships, research, advocacy and an award-winning magazine and other professional development resources. SNA and its members encourage the engagement of parents and families in children’s food choices and health habits at home and at school. Positive, innovative collaborations among parents, schools and the foodservice industry are working to ensure children learn in a healthy school environment. To learn more, visit www.schoolnutrition.org and www.traytalk.org.
Published by School Nutrition Association. View All Articles.