This past week, I was asked to participate in a health fair held at Hyde Park High School. The two-day fair brought community leaders to the school where they gave presentations on food, fitness, and general well-being. Some of the highlights I saw included karate demonstrations and Zumba classes. State police educated students on the dangers of alcohol consumption by having them wear “beer goggles” that distorted their vision and made normal motor skills difficult. There were CPR dummies, corn-shucking demos, and yoga as part of the fair -- but I was there for the food.
The foodservice department for the district was on hand to highlight their best practices related to healthier choices for school foods. They had booths featuring their breakfast program, a display of fresh produce offered as healthy salad bar options, and even healthier versions of packaged snack choices including baked chips and reduced-fat Doritos.
My job was to create an action station that served healthy hot lunch samples. Since it is extremely important to me that our efforts are rooted in reality, I wanted to use ingredients that could already be found in their school cafeteria kitchens. Ultimately, I decided on a healthy stirfy.
The ingredients were surprisingly simple -- pre-cooked chicken strips that schools use for fajitas and a frozen vegetable medley supplemented with sliced fresh zucchini. As it turns out, zucchini was Hyde Park school district's "Vegetable of the Month." I made a simple stirfry sauce with a 3:1 ratio of orange juice to soy sauce. It was seasoned with garlic powder and thickened with a little cornstarch. The stirfy was a bountiful serving of vegetables along with a serving of chicken. The orange juice in the sauce gave everything a bright, fresh flavor as well as some additional vitamins while it also helped reduce the sodium levels from that of a typical stirfry sauce.
Did the students like it? No. They loved it! While I never like denying food to hungry people, I realized that I had only a limited quantity of ingredients to feed the great number of mouths -- over 1400 -- that were lining up for a sample. I wound up telling the kids, “I give out seconds, but not thirds.”
The students really liked the taste and look of the dish, but what impressed them the most was the fact that I sourced all of the ingredients from their very own cafeteria. They were amazed that such great tasting food could be created from ingredients that are already in the school. It was just a matter of putting them together with three things in mind: flavor, nutrition, and eye appeal.
We wanted to get some honest reactions from the students, so I asked them to fill out a comment card. Then, our Menus for Healthy Kids team selected 5 cards at random so we could award the winners with a copy of The Culinary Institute of America's Healthy Cooking at Home. There's lots of great information and recipes in there, so I hope the winners are making use of it!
It is my hope that this experience encouraged Hyde Park students to participate in their school lunch program. And, as my relationship with Hyde Park schools and my involvement with their lunch program strengthens, I hope we keep building on the sense of pride they should take in the steps their district is already taking to create healthier and more appealing options.
All in all, the event was a complete success. What a great way for a district to put health and wellness front and center for the students and show how not only the school but entities outside the school are working hard to build a community that supports our children.
After all, that is what it’s really going to take. We all have a responsibility to our children. We all have to work collectively. The challenges we face demand that kind of collaborative response. Taking action, instead of pointing fingers, will help us all to work together and to support each others' efforts. It is only by standing united that can we hope to gain any ground in the fight against childhood obesity.
This recipe is an adaptation of the recipe I prepared at Hyde Park. It is an easy, fresh-tasting, quick dinner for a weekday evening that I like to make for my family.
Orange Garlic Stirfry
Serves 2 or 3
3/4 cup orange juice
1/4 cup reduced-sodium soy sauce
1 tbsp cornstarch
2 tbsp canola oil
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 tbsp minced or grated ginger
1 boneless skinless chicken breast, sliced thin
2 cups broccoli florets
1 cup shredded Napa cabbage
1 cup julienned carrots
One 8-oz can diced pineapple, drained
- Mix the orange juice, soy sauce, and cornstarch together in a small bowl until thoroughly combined. Set aside.
- In a large skillet or wok, heat the oil over high heat. Add the garlic and ginger and cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, about 1 minute.
- Add the chicken and stirfry until the chicken is no longer pink, about 3 minutes.
- Add the broccoli, cabbage, and carrots to the wok and stirfry until the vegetables are very hot and tender-crisp and the chicken is fully cooked, about 4 minutes.
- Stir the orange juice and soy mixture to blend the cornstarch into the sauce (the cornstarch settles a little as the sauce sits). Add this sauce to the wok along with the pineapple. Continue to stirfry long enough for the sauce to thicken, about 2 minutes.