Much has been written about the French school lunch program, which is considered to be superior to the usual American school lunch. Though many American school lunches are underwhelming for students, at Montgomery School, an independent school in Chester Springs, the family style lunch program is considered part of the curriculum. The food is prepared in the school's kitchen, and as they do in France, faculty members sit with the students, and the students take turns waiting on the table and doing other lunch-time chores.
Chef Ron Ettorre, head of Montgomery School's lunch program explains, “My whole philosophy is to deliver the best meal every day, so that the next day will be even better. Everything comes back to me here, so if it isn’t good, it comes back to me. I try to make sure that the students and staff are taken care of every day.” He explains recent changes to the program by saying, “We switched from frozen to fresh vegetables, and I try to get local food whenever possible. In the spring, we’ll get most of our vegetables from local sources, including our mushrooms. Quite a few of our suppliers are from the Lancaster area.” Chef Ron’s high standards extend to the milk served at school as well. The lunch room has begun serving all natural rBST- free dairy products sourced from nearly 50 local farms. The milk is supplied from cows not injected with the growth hormone known as recombinant Bovine Somatotropin. The farms employ 2 farm inspectors and test raw milk for antibiotics and bacteria. Chef Ron wants to serve the most nutritious food possible, and to help students understand the importance of eating well.
Montgomery School has maintained an organic school garden since 2005. Chef Ron said, “When Montgomery School’s organic garden comes in, I’ll be using that as well.” When he began his position in October, there was one last harvest of kale before the school garden was finished for the season. Chef Ron has an herb garden growing outside the kitchen. He says that he enjoys being able to walk out and “grab a handful of parsley,” or another herb, to include in his cooking. Research has shown that school gardens help students eat a more healthy diet. When students grow food, they are more likely to try eating a new type of vegetable.
Serving food that children will eat is as important as expanding their tastes. Chef Ron states, “I watch to see what the students are eating.” In addition to the switch to fresh vegetables, the mashed potatoes are also made fresh. After boiling, the potatoes are hand-whisked. He adds, “I always make sure that I put some aside for the vegan teachers and students. We also make gluten free meals available, we watch out for allergies, and avoid nuts.”
Apparently, the recent shepherd's pie was not a winner (though it was delicious). He wonders if it was because the students weren’t familiar with the casserole. Generally, students are making good food choices, however. He laughs as he says, “I nearly ran out of broccoli the other day, and I was amazed! The students ate so much broccoli, I thought that I wouldn’t have enough!” It isn’t often that a PreK-8th grade school will run out of broccoli! The key to Chef Ron’s delicious vegetables is blanching them lightly, and then putting a little butter on top. This way, the vegetables retain their brilliant color and taste fresh and crisp.
Thanks to the National attention brought to school lunches in recent years, there is still a raging debate about what is considered a healthy lunch that students will actually eat. Finding a happy medium between nutritious food and students' developing taste buds can be a real challenge. The answer may be a combination of factors that include a chef who pays attention to what students enjoy, and a program that encourages students to expand their tastes by trying unfamiliar foods. On some days there will be losers like shepard’s pie, but on other days, you might find that broccoli is an unexpected winner!