Tom Colicchio

Tom Colicchio takes to his blog to talk about a topic near and dear to his and his wife's hearts.

on Jun 23, 20100

Last week we met this season’s chefs. This week, the chefs hit the ground running, with a lighthearted Quickfire Challenge and a very serious Elimination Challenge  …one that tackled an issue very close to my heart.

Recently Michelle Obama and White House Assistant Chef Sam Kass hosted almost 1,000 chefs on the South lawn of the White House to talk about how chefs can make a difference on the issue of school nutrition. I took Mrs. Obama’s words to heart, which is why I’m devoting today’s blog to the subject.
 
As I mentioned in tonight’s episode, my mother ran a school lunch program for nearly 20 years. My brothers and I urged her to retire long before she actually agreed to. When I pressed her about it, she said that for a great many of the kids at her school, the food she planned and prepared was the only food they’d eat all day. She wanted to ensure that they had at least one good meal, and she was loathe to step away and entrust their well-being to someone else.
 
So when my wife, Lori Silverbush, teamed up with fellow filmmaker Kristi Jacobson to direct and produce a film on hunger in America, I was more than glad to sign on as Executive Producer. The film asks why a nation wealthy enough to provide healthy and affordable food for all of its people has a massive problem with food insecurity. A core premise of the film is that hunger in the U.S. is fixable … and a key means to accomplishing this task is the provision of universal free lunch to all of our school children.
 
Currently, there are over 45 million Americans who are food insecure. Almost 17 million of them are children. That’s 17 million hungry children who cannot focus on their teachers and tasks in the classroom, and who are at risk of developing behavior challenges. Quite apart from how distracting the sensation of hunger can be, studies have proven that there is a direct link between proper nutrition and brain development. When the brain isn’t fed while our children are young, it sets off a chain-reaction of lifelong and society-wide issues.  
 
Furthermore, our nation’s epidemic of obesity is not always due to lifestyle choices, but to lack of access or good options. Our First Lady’s campaign against obesity is, in fact, a campaign against an aspect of poverty. When families run low on cash or food stamps run out (which they do because the programs are underfunded), parents turn out of necessity to the cheapest food to feed their children, which is usually fast food or empty calories like ramen noodles. So not only are their children’s brains not fed what they need for proper development, but their children’s bodies are being primed for obesity, and for such dire health issues as diabetes and heart disease in the future. (This problem is compounded by the fact that so many schools have had to cut their physical education programs due to budgetary concerns.) The ripple effect of poor nutrition in the early years is staggering, not just for each child but for society as a whole: Some experts estimate that hunger and food insecurity costs our economy over $120 billion a year in health care costs, lost wages, and productivity, etc. Add to that the costs of health care incurred over a lifetime due to poor childhood nutrition that I just mentioned and you have an idea just how vital this issue is for all of us.

154 comments
Jamie Klein
Jamie Klein

Tom, I just saw your CNN interview and immediatley had to share it. Thank you for such a well thought out and informed response to this issue. I would also like to share my own personal response to hunger. Soup Kitchen, Inc. (www.soupkitcheninc.com) For every portion of our (all natural, though I know better than to try and sell you on taste in a message) soup sold, an equal portion is donated to someone in need. We are very adept at seeing this work in many different iterations, and school lunches are one of them. This is a sustainable, nutritious model that feeds those in need and those who allow it into their lives and businesses. I would love to share more of what we do with you and join our good work with yours. Please feel free to contact me and let's explore the possibilities.

"Together we can change the way the world helps."

shimmergirl
shimmergirl

I agree that the cafeterias in public schools needs to be changed, but I disagree that all public lunches should be free. As a child I HATED the lunch served at school, and usually brought my lunch, went home, got something from a vending machine, or didn't eat at all. It would have been a complete waste of money at my school. And no one notices who eats free. Even if they did, there has to be a smarter answer.

I'm also sick to death of hearing about how cheap fast food is... it isn't cheap, it's just cheaper than going to a sit down restaurant and easier than cooking. I would be so poor if I ate at McDonald's everyday! Eating cold meat sandwiches and carrot sticks from the grocery store is just as satisfying, easy, and cheap. Anyone who says otherwise it out of touch with actual poor people.

But back to the topic, I used to think that making the cafeterias better would be impossible, but I no longer think that way. The CEO at my company fired our old cafeteria, and hired a private company to do all the work. It has been over a year, and it is infinitely better! But I think that's what it would take... get rid of the government ran system and hire a private company. They should be providing regular snacks to children in the morning and afternoon, and putting real thought into their food tasting good. If my school was any example, it would be a complete tear down project.

But regarding the Sherry, I have always been told that alcohol cooks out of food when you heat it. The idea was inappropriate, but it sounds to me like everyone over-reacted.

Vindy
Vindy

Just another reason I love Top Chef: continually attempting to demonstrate doing the right thing.

It's great to bring this issue to light. I hadn't thought about it. I agree with you. Food is very basic. Should be basic. For All. It has been shameful for decades that America has a hunger issue. Doing something about it is long overdue.

One small factual error, though: our textbooks were not free. I'm 44, got a checkbook when I started working at 15 so I could pay for my own books. I believe they still are not universally free here in Indiana.

Anyway, loving the show and your blogs add so much! Thank you for taking more time from quality time with your wife and baby to do it.

janelle
janelle

Hi Tom!

I am so glad you are speaking out about this. I am a third grade teacher in the Great Central Valley of California where we grow nuts, fruits, vegetables, etc. and I am appalled at the food served to my students. This past school year I occasionally ate lunch with my third graders. At one lunch we were not served ANY fruits or vegetables. I kept asking the cooks (and it is not their fault) where the apples or carrot sticks were? Everything is so processed now. There is no cooking going on - just reheating or opening cans and dumping. We have farms within 2 miles of our school and yet we rarely see any of their products. It's "food" that somehow through processing meets the government requirements. Thank you Tom for speaking out on this issue and I plan to do more too. My daughter is also an elementary school student and I'm concerned about what she consumes at school too.

Thank you again!

SallyJo Smith
SallyJo Smith

Spot on Tom. Your writing is on a par with your cooking.

June from NH
June from NH

Our neighborhood school, which my daughter attends, has half of the children at or below poverty level, so we are the recipients of a fresh fruit and veggie snack. All kids participate and the children love it.

For anyone who thinks that children will not eat good food, I offer our school as an example as something done right.

Faerie Thompson
Faerie Thompson

I listen to people around me complain about 'socialism' and are totally ignorant about farm subsidies and how it has impact our entire culture. We absolutely must turn this around.

It is the shame of our nation that children are under-nourished. There is simply no excuse for this.

Ri Ri
Ri Ri

One thing makes me very mad that you allowed someone to server a dish with Sherry in it. I do not understand why the school allowed it to be server in the first place. This could have been stopped at the store if a producer or crew member told her she cant do that. If someone knowing added wine to dish that my child would eat there would be hell to pay.

viewer not board member
viewer not board member

Tom, you hit the nail on the head! This whole "junk food, cheap food" problem, the obesity and the poverty and the McDonald's and ramen noodles, all of this is such a massive problem. McDonald's seems to have this guilt complex, doing all that charity work and "Ronald McDonald House" stuff because they know they are serving cheap, dangerous junk to unsuspecting children. I'm so glad to see someone who is successful and influential using that for the greater good. Keep it up, and as always, love the show.

butterbean1991
butterbean1991

i admire your mothers commitment!! I am over a food program myself and I can relate to all the comments that were made reguarding the school lunch episode. There are a lot of different things that come in to play when you discuss "obesity" within the school. I do agree that children are offered vegetables (actually two) but they do not take them because they do not eat them at home!! You have to look at this from every angle. I live in the biggest county in my state and we are the the poorest !! we barely have enough funds to buy equipment much less "a healthier alternative at lunch". Anything with better nutrional value is so high, we can not budget it in. So if we could get more help as far as funding, we could offer more than nuggets, rolls, peas, potatoes and a fruit cup!! And as far as USDA, I am thankful for anything we get for our lunch program through them. I try to offer suggestions and have actually set down with supervisors and other managers to better the recipes and cut fat content without loosing the taste of the food!!!! a little love goes a long way when it comes to a child. I feel my job is not only to feed my children (some of which i know this is all they have all day until i see their precious faces the next morning) but to make them feel special with just a smile to go along with what I know I can provide for them, a nutrious breakfast and lunch!! I love the show and have a been a BIG fan since season 1. My dream would be for you to come to our school the next time you would like to do an episode on school lunch!! We would welcome you with a lot of southern charm!!

Sue0627
Sue0627

It is not only appalling but embarrassing that anyone in this country is hungry. There is more then enough food to feed every man, woman,and child not only here but in the world. There is food in warehouses that is rotting but not distributed. Farmers are paid to not produce food. It is ridiculous, it makes me so incredibly sad. There is so much waste in this country, we need to take care of each other. It is good that Top Chef is bringing this issue to the forefront, it may even inspire those people who cook on limited budgets, at home to look for ways to increase nutrition, I have been on this band wagon for more years then I would like to admit.

Competant Home Cook
Competant Home Cook

The school district in my town has a "cashless" lunch program, where each child entering elementary school is assigned a PIN, which will stay with him/her all the way through school. The child goes through the lunchline, enters the PIN, and, voila-- receives lunch.

Although it is a pain for the parents, since it makes lunches feel like another bill that needs to be paid, instead of rummaging in the bag for a couple of dollars as the kids head out the door, there is absolutely no stigma attached to subsidized lunches, because no one can tell. Everyone has a PIN and uses the PIN; only the program directors will know who is receiving a subsidized lunch.

Lesli
Lesli

Before I had kids of my own, I did some substitute teaching in the county schools where my husband and I lived. I was ASTOUNDED at the tiny amount of food being served in cafeterias not to mention the types! Literally I saw "meals" that consisted of packaged carrots, ranch dressing, a jello cup (also sealed / pre-packaged), and maybe one other thing---that was it! When I grew up (in the 70s/80s), we had actual meals. We may not have liked all of it, but none of it was pre-packaged and we all drank whole milk--every day.

I totally agree with you, Tom, that lunches should be provided to all children, along with breakfast. I have so many teacher friends, many of whom teach in low-income areas, that tell me their kids are literally starving by the time they get to school in the morning; many are wearing the clothes from the day before. Unfortunately, there are parents out there that are not doing their jobs...but the children shouldn't suffer as a result.

I am curious about one thing....the alcohol in the chicken. I used to follow Graham Kerr a long time ago and I specifically remember him saying that alcohol cooks out of a dish--and I use wine when I cook risotto that my kids eat---but is that NOT the case? Just wondering....

Thanks for the thoughtful blog piece and I look forward to seeing your wife's film. Let's hope it will bring some awareness.

Po
Po

Your comment about Angelo trying to lose to send Kenny home seems factual. Top Chef is my favorite show (even though I can't cook and don't get to taste an of the dishes!). If you don't want it to turn into Survivor, you need to formulate some rules or challenges to discourage that kind of bad sportsmanship.

gdw1961
gdw1961

I agree that school lunches are, for the most part, a travesty in our country. I cringe at least once a month when the cafeteria serves what I call "the yellow meal": macaroni and cheese, corn, peaches and a roll. No human being needs that much carbohydrate at one sitting. We wonder why children are hungry an hour after they eat this? And most meals aren't much better than that. Where is the protein? It's a travesty that the USDA is in any way involved with setting school lunch or nutrition guidelines. The job of that department is to PROMOTE U.S. AGRICULTURE. It seems to me that they couldn't be less interested in what actually promotes good health. The newest nutritional guidelines are about to be released again - they are full of nothing but the same tripe we have seen for 30 years. Americans are getting fatter and sicker on a low-fat, high-carbohydrate diet. So let's encourage them to eat even more carbohydrate? Where is the logic? Where is the science? Who is going to determine what is the optimal meal for school children? If it's the current powers that be, we are in for a tough road.

Denise278
Denise278

Tom, thanks for an intelligent and thoughtful discussion of this topic. I really appreciate it that Top Chef tackles this issue and requires the contestants to live with the same type of budgetary and health constraints that we have in the real world. It's a lot easier to produce "gourmet" food if you can throw expensive ingredients and butter at the problem. True creativity comes when you have to work within realistic boundaries. The winning team showed that you can produce something on a tight budgget that kids will enjoy without drowning them in fat and sugar. Great show!

kteam
kteam

Re. Jantina's comment, "BTW, there's no way a school can afford gourmet chefs for cooks. Eat that." -- and there's no way for indigent defendents to afford lawyers. There's something called "pro bono legal counsel;" maybe there could be similar programs for area chefs and schools.

Sal32
Sal32

The fact that the contestant used Sherry in the meal was unbelievable. She actually asked for "alcohol" at the store in the video. Love the show but I could not understand sending the girl who used 2lbs of sugar to someone who did not care if she put alcohol in kids meals - whatever the cost to the team or kids but simply because she liked it. I appreciated Gails comments on it.

momjo
momjo

No! Don't bring food into the classrooms! As the parent of a child who has severe allergies to milk, eggs, peanuts and tree nuts, it is essential that the classroom be kept as free from allergens as possible. The cafeteria is decontaminated, but his guard has to be on high during meal times. But at least kids wash up before heading back to the classrooms. The classroom should be as safe a place as possible.

EJP
EJP

This is an interesting challenge for a number of reasons and I am glad to see all the comments on the thread

I was interested to see how horrified all the chefs were at the thought of sherry chicken for children. I grew up in a single family income, but my mother regularly cooked chicken with wine and I loved it (buzz free!). You can add easily veggies to the sauce and they will cook down in a delicious way and the wine can provide some nutrients.

I understand that you can't cook with alcohol in a U.S. kitchen for cultural reasons, but really...it's not as bad nutritionally as some other choices we normally get.

I applaud your mother for sticking it out. I wonder if school cafeteria cooking is becoming a lost art. I initially started school in a more rural county and the food was quite good and probably "home cooked" in many cases. I admit that they were the classics like sloppy joes and hot turkey sandwiches, but they were good. I later moved to a suburban county and was shocked that the pizza was inedible. How can you screw up pizza? A total travesty.

One place with a good history of innovative school food is Cornell University. In the 80s always had good choices ranging from cereal at night to home made mashed potatoes with the skin in them (not to mention an outstanding salad bar). One manager tried to replace the home made mashed potato with a "substitute" and there was an open revolt. I think it is true that kids will learn to eat good food if they get a chance to try it, and canned green beans is just not good food.

Curly ears
Curly ears

In the district I worked in, no tax return was needed to apply for school lunch (as it would be for financial aid for college.) Just about everyone was on free lunch, and while I'd rather see 100 kids defraud the system than see one needy kid go hungry, I have to wonder how poor some of them were. They could certainly afford the latest cell-phones, with unlimited texting plans that cost more than the lunch.

Text books and desks are not purchased for the kids, but rented. The desks stay after they graduate and the books are given back in June. They are not consumed, like a lunch would be.

If there is a way to give free lunch to all, without raising taxes, I'm for it. But it's not fair to take money from say, the working poor, to buy lunch for rich kids whose parents can afford it.

cyn4it58
cyn4it58

I live in a state that provides free breakfast in the students classroom.

Don Wishnow
Don Wishnow

I applaud your wanting the best for our children when it comes to eating in school, I lived on steak and Mac in school. the Question is why we see you one day feeding children in the most intelligent manner, then see the next day, POTUS feeding Fat laden Hamburgers and Fructose filled Soda, to the Russians, Huh what message does this send.

Loose the White House and the just be Top Chefs, When it comes to the White House, It's just POLITICAL B.S. Regards.

DC Viewer
DC Viewer

I love you, Tom! You're awesome! Great blog - this is an issue everyone should be able to get behind. Thank you!

Toni C
Toni C

Thank you, Tom, for your dedication to such an important topic. I live in an area (Upstate NY) where most children receive a reduced, if not free lunch (and breakfast). The school is trying very hard to provide nutritious meals for the children. A couple of years ago they instituted a more nutritious menu, maybe you've heard of it, it's called "Rock on Cafe". The problem is that the kids (and adults!) HATE it. My daughter used to look forward to Fridays because they served pizza but now the thought of school pizza, well, let's just say it's not good. I would love to find a way to provide an alternative (preferably by not loading the lunches with sherry or any other alcohol, just kidding). My daughter refuses to take her lunch, it's just NOT cool. Why is raising kids so difficult? If there is a tasty alternative I believe her school would look into it. I just don't know where to start. Any suggestions??

JW1
JW1

I'm not convinced, Tom.

You argue that school lunch should be universally free. One major reason for doing so is to eliminate the stigma associated with free lunches today.

Surely there must be another way. Why should the children of rich parents eat for free? This strikes me as throwing the baby out with the bath water. Couldn't the school have pre-paid "lunch cards" for all kids that neatly disguise whether they are free or paid?

Such a solution would be infinitely cheaper and more equitable than what you propose.

You describe an economy of scale that arises when schools provide universally free lunches. You imagine an economic jolt for local farms and producers. But you give no credible reasons why this would be the case. If the institution's mandate can be met by means such as flying in tomatoes from Mexico, then why should we rely on local farmers?

You suggest that breakfast should be made free, too, and that it should be served at the desk when children arrive at school. You state that we are deep in a recession, and even working adults need help providing this critical meal to our children.

But Tom, let's not forget that even in our "deep recession," the vast majority of adults in America are employed and have the means to provide breakfast. And many do. You are suggesting that the government should provide nearly two-thirds of our children's meals during the school year regardless of whether breakfast can be (or is) served at home. And I believe it follows from your previous argument that children could not opt out of free breakfast because that would create a "stigma."

Sorry, but I can't get behind you on this. Well meaning policies often have disastrous unintended consequences. I suspect a universal free lunch and breakfast would lead to the government "ownership" of most of our childhood meals. I do not believe that the real food advocates would prevail in the debates over supply chain or kitchen administration.

Please reconsider and find a more pragmatic approach to solving these problems. I suggested one already: pre-paid lunch cards that disguise method of payment for all children. Another one is to make cooking a core part of the school curriculum, not an optional and marginalized class like Home Economics. Furthermore I suspect much could be done within the present framework of the school cafeteria to improve the quality of the food served there; not least of all, "line-item vetoing" the obviously unhealthy foods on the daily menu.

LeAnnTav
LeAnnTav

A few years ago the day care center my kids went to decided to stop serving canned or frozen veggies and only provide fresh veggies. Guess what they discovered? Kids (these are babies to pre K kids) actually ATE the fresh veggies after years of snubbing the canned. Kids will eat good food that is well prepared as long as they don't view it as "funky". The sherry issue shouldn't have been about the alcohol (it cooks out, people!) but the waste of spending money on an expensive ingredient that would not be appealing to kids.

borbor
borbor

Tom, thanks for a compelling and eye-opening look at school lunches (and breakfasts.) You are obviously an informed and passionate advocate. I will carry what you have said in this blog entry with me when I talk about and vote on issues relating to school lunches. I think you should find other media outlets and political arenas to press your message on this issue which so obviously carries life-altering possibilities for the coming generation.

Kudos to you and to Top Chef for taking on this crucial cause. I really think you moved the ball forward.

COMom
COMom

Tom, Kudos for bring healthy food to my Dad's alma mater! In his day, though, he walked home each day for lunch. I applaud the steps that chefs are taking to help make our country healthier. My own family has learned so much from your show in terms of sustainability and supporting local farms. Please keep up the good work. And consider making the first episodes 90 minutes as to not rush us through getting to know the chefs and the wonderful food (in most cases) they are preparing. I had to watch the first one 3 times because I couldn't keep up and enjoy it the way I would like.

sbh1cats
sbh1cats

none of these chefs impress me as very good chefs or very good people...the ones who may have talent are total jerks...not sure i will make it through the entire season...the judges lost my support when they did not vote out amanda for using sherry...the fact that she had alcohol on school grounds is actually against the law in my state...

annenmi
annenmi

Chef Tom, I am a teacher in a rural Northern Michigan town. I couldn't agree with you more. We do have children come to school hungry. Thankfully, many participate in the breakfast program. I know it impacts their learning. I always provide a snack mid morning, and they are already hungry again when it is time to go to lunch. I agree. Lunch should just be provided. maybe if they quit spending so much time determining who gets and doesn't get help would provide the budget for that. I have emmense respect for the work your mother has done. Bless her.

chefbecky
chefbecky

Tom - Loved the blog and whole heartedly agree with all of your thoughts about free lunch and breakfast. Back to the challenge - the Sherry chicken should have IMMEDIATLY been tossed out. I teach Culinary Arts at a Technical High School and we run a fine dining restaurant that is open to the public as a part of our program. I am not allowed to have ANYTHING even closley related to alcohol in my kitchen. The school district puts it in the same catagory as tobacco and weapons - not allowed on campus. Besides, as a classicaly trained chef, I can tell you that the alcohol does not all cook off!!!!!!

Penny
Penny

Wow, your blog was impressive.. Maybe with someone like you talking about it something can change in this country. it is almost scarey that we have a obesity problem in the united states at the same time with having a hunger and lack of good nutrition eatting both at the same time. First on the issue of physical education in our public schools.. I mean cutting it out of schools whose great idea was that... we should increase it stop calling it gym class and having it only once or twice a week it should be everyday when my daughter was little she went to public schools until 8th grade in high i move her to a private school. that school had the most wonderful physical education program one day in class teaching nutriton, healthy living ideas, good habits in general the next day they did the physical education. she did that everday for 3 years. Waht she learned in those classes she has taken into adult life. I mean simply we need to teach our childern healthy habits when they are little and continue to do so during their teen years. i have worked in resturants including fast food most of my life and it would just admaze you how many parents say clean your plate including the bad stuff, i always told my daughter eat till your full. I hope and pray your thoughts on doing a free lunch program can happen it would be wonderful for this entire country on so many levels as you stated. What besides voting can me the average american do? i have a feeling that the system will not be happy with the idea of change but it is time we start caring and changing not just for our childern now but for this county our future really does depend on it. Again thank you for your thoughts. Your show is one of my favorites... have watched from season one!

Ians Mom
Ians Mom

Another year, another kids challenge and another huge oversight on the peanut butter issue. It would be funny if it weren't so sad that the big uproar I keep reading about is the sherry used. Granted serving sherry to kids is a bad idea but that's simply because the kids won't like the taste not the "alcohol" factor. As stated by others the alcohol gets cooked out.

Unfortunately (and seemingly as usual) the real danger is overlooked. 1 in 100 kids are now allergic to peanut butter. Not allergic like, "I have a little rash, my eyes are itchy" but allergic like. "I CAN'T BREATHE" and without immediate medical attention, (ie; an epipen shot immediately and correctly administered) "I WILL GO INTO ANAPHYLACTIC SHOCK and STOP BREATHING". It takes less the 1/16 of a peanut to kill a kid. Is it really that difficult to use your medium to reach all those out there that are among the uninformed, by taking one minute to state that there will be no peanut butter or peanut products involved in this particular game as we value the lives of these schoolchildren. I get that having vegetables and active kids lives is important. But that's no excuse to be among the many unthinking or uncaring adults out there that believe its not really that big of a deal. You talk about taking your responsibilities seriously, PLEASE in 2011, could you spend one minute (JUST one) stating a simple and absolute fact that could and most likely would save a childs life. Thanks!

jm1
jm1

Somehow I doubt if school lunch food is generally purchased at restaurant depot.

davidpines
davidpines

The issue of food for school children, although forthright when started, has moved into the scam of Greed over Principal. As Jamie Oliver showed this spring, the corporate interests move in and the processed food is served.

My daughter is at Syracuse University and most food is charged on a school ID that makes no notice of whether one is on aid or paying full price. There is no trick to this if there is a will and intelligent thought.

It is about time that a full campaign is started to provide meals for each child in schools where ketchup is not considered a veg.

DenimDiva
DenimDiva

You say you can't believe nobody stopped Amanda from using sherry in a meal meant for middle schoolers.I can't believe that Padma didn't ask her to pack her knives and GO for such a huge blunder. It's bad enough that she did it. It's worse that the judges let her get away with it. A school employee who did something that stupid would be fired. There is absolutely no excuse for serving alcohol in any form to school children!

Jantina
Jantina

Well if Obama is worried about obesity in America (children or otherwise), he's doing a good job of making us tighten our belts. Taxes are higher and we get less money to take home to buy food. Hmmm...I guess the kids will get skinnier after all. Good job Mr. President. Not!

BTW, there's no way a school can afford gourmet chefs for cooks. Eat that.

TC Fan
TC Fan

I failed to mention in my post and should have done so first......bravo (no pun intended) Tom on your work with schools and your mentee on nutrition! Admirable work plus it was touching to read how your mom resisted retiring because of her dedication to the students!

TC Fan
TC Fan

I've been a fan since season one and understand the dynamics of competition but find this season's cheftestants the most bizarre collection. John was the best decision to go first and even if Jacqueline's dessert was too sweet, there was NO excuse for tolerating a use of alcohol in a school lunch. That should have eliminated Amanda! Clearly, the panel is making political decisions on what makes lively television (good thing you are set in DC this season). If so, please work on a way to take Angelo down a few pegs. You have had some real egos in the past (Marcel, Hung, Spike, Mike I and Mike V) but this one is obnoxious and unsportsmanlike!

Just one viewer's opinion......

RH
RH

I agree with a poster below - a fresh tomato IS a vegetable. (Tomato KETCHUP is not) If Tom Kass considers a tomato a fruit, then he would need to consider other things like eggplants, okra, zucchini, squash, etc etc as fruits and therefore NOT usable as "Vegetables". Even mushrooms would not be allowed as a vegetable by his logic as they are the fruiting bodies of a fungus.

lucyboop
lucyboop

I worked in a school cafeteria last year for about a month, one a middle school, the other a high school. I got to eat lunch there for free but guess what? I would say I wasn't hungry or just bring a yogurt because the food was gross!!! All processed. Oh and we didn't use real peanut butter it was made from sunflower seeds and tasted you guessed it nasty. Frozen pizza was the norm and lots of canned veggies and fruit. I got a kick out of the chefs that thought that kitchen in the school was small. They should have worked in the one here, it's really tiny and we kept running into each other.

I agree with the poster who talked about the chefs smoking. I am amazed at how many smoke, especially the women chefs and I agree, it affects their palate. I'm not impressed with any chefs so far and Angelo is so conceited, he makes me want to hurl!!

Arctic49
Arctic49

Great show the other night. Tom, thank you for bringing up the fact that veggies don't get farm subsidies--I don't think enough people know and understand this. I only wish you could have compared the lunches that are normally served with those prepared by the chefs--the nutritional difference would be astounding. I don't allow my children to buy hot lunch--the menu consists of chicken strips, hot dogs and pizza. This at a school district with an established "health policy" of serving only healthy food. Thank you for bringing attention to this important issue.

KL
KL

Tom,

LOVE YOUR SHOW! The chefs have great ideas for school lunches but KIDS ARE FICKLE when it comes to eating. My 6-1/2-year-old daughter LOVES PEANUT BUTTER AND JELLY, tuna, turkey slices, chicken bite-sized pieces, cheddar cheese, grapes, watermelon, cookies, milk, mac & cheese (rarely lately), and pizza (rarely, only cheese on it). BUT, SHE HATES cheeseburgers, shrimp, salmon, burritos, tacos, spaghetti, salads, many types of fruits and vegetables. I would be afraid that she would toss the food items that she hates in the trash at school during lunchtime. What a waste of money and food!!

SO, I believe the best option for schools is to provide numerous nutritional choices each day, perhaps 3-4, rather than just 1-2 choices. Then, each child could eat healthy every day, eating what they love to learn and grow!

Washington Cube
Washington Cube

First of all, I applaud your blog entry this week. It touches on a very important subject, and I am in accord that school meals should be subsidized for ALL children, not just the impoverished. Children can be brutal. Remove any potential stigma. I have friends who teach in the D.C. public schools, and they often take food to their classrooms so their pupils won't go hungry. So often they have to take on the full parent mantel--sadly.

My friends and I were laughing about the sherry chicken saying we would have broken both of Amanda's ankles before she got out of the food warehouse. Sherry? Budget? Chicken Thighs? What planet is she on? ...and as others have mentioned, I am almost certain that schools nationwide have a huge ban on peanut butter in any form: spread, oils, flours--anywhere it can be hidden.

As a Washingtonian, (that would be someone who realizes this city doesn't revolve around politics,) I was laughing when I saw the Hinckley Hilton...which is what we all call it. The same way no Washingtonian says "Reagan Airport," but always "National." Oh how I wish that Jean-Louis Palladin were still around to see what your show is doing.

I know you've been using the Silver Spring Whole Foods, but of all of them in the area (and I assume you went there for the parking lot) it's nasty inside: warehouse environment, horrible acoustics, terrible layout. I always leave there with a headache and a vow never to go in there again. Many locals call it "The Poor People's Whole Foods." In other words, it doesn't match the standards of the other stores.

A blogger friend has been recapping your show for years for her D.C. readership: http://jordanbaker.blogspot.com/

Again, I am glad you strayed from reviewing the show to offer your opinion on school meals. Keep it up. Get back to D.C. and go before Committees. You're a powerful voice in this country and you have passion in your beliefs.

Ember
Ember

Great blog, Tom! When I first read that you support free lunch for all school kids, I thought you were crazy. But, reading your post is making me re-think the issue. One problem I had with the challenge, however, is that dessert had to be included. I think too many Americans think dessert MUST be at every meal (lunch and dinner), when really the meal itself usually satisfies the hunger. Dessert is just extra, unnecessary calories.

NutritionExpert
NutritionExpert

I love watching Top Chef, but in the last episode you missed the mark. I was happy to hear that you have some first hand knowledge of the school lunch program (God bless your mother and the dedicated School Food Service people like her). Top Chef had an opportunity to bring the full story to the public about the strict nutritional requirements and limited funding of a government program but the facts of the program were not accurately represented. Overall, I was very disappointed that you blamed childhood obesity on the school lunch program. A child does not receive their entire food intake from the school meal program and many school programs across the Nation offer good, nutritious meals following strict U.S.D.A. regulations. Texas and a few other states have advanced Nutrition Policies that prohibit high fat, high sugar offerings. (see www.squaremeals.org). The chefs were given $2.60 to produce a meal-$2.68 is the highest amount of reimbursement the program receives for serving one Free meal but the chefs were allowed to use the entire $2.60 for food when actually, they should have had only approx 40% (not just .08 less) of that for food costs. I think Chef Kass said he was taking 4 cents from $2.64 to cover other expenses, but in the real world, $2.68 also covers labor, supplies and overhead-only 40% or so covers food. The School Nutrition Programs are financially self sufficient, often also paying for utilities, custodians, insurance, garbage services, equipment and maintenance. The nutritional components and serving sizes your chefs presented were not in compliance with U.S.D.A. requirements, nor did the chefs follow the strict sanitation and food safety standards (HACCP) (hair restraints, proper tasting technique-no finger licking, please, hand washing, time and temperature controls) or time constraints School Lunch programs must meet. They had 4 chefs to prepare for and serve 50 students. In the school lunch program, 4 cooks would prepare for and serve at least 400 students. It appears that the chefs followed Nutrient Standard menu planning (which will be prohibited soon) instead of Food Based Menu planning, but still you did not require the chefs to meet any fat, sugar or salt restrictions nor portion control requirements. School menus must meet strict nutrition requirements providing a certain number of calories and nutrients that are age appropriate for growth and development-this is monitored by Nutritional Analysis. Food Based Menus must allow no more than 30% calories from fat/10% from saturated fat. Dessert is NOT served on the tray. Out of the 16 chefs, I only recall one chef serving fruit -4 little pieces on a stick (no sharp sticks allowed in schools). Many schools offer 3 kinds of fruit daily for lunch in addition to 2-3 vegetable servings and some offer fresh fruit for breakfast in addition to juice. Since it seems that chefs have been recognized as the “nutrition experts” in the field of school lunch, when will chefs address the meals and snacks given to children by parents and work on what is allowed in other areas of the schools, including fund raisers and vending? When will chefs and policy makers address choices made by people receiving food stamps? There are NO restrictions in the food stamp program regarding which foods may be purchased and no incentives for the purchase of fruits or vegetables or for exercise. The problem is not that fruits and vegetables aren’t available-they are not selected. The foods children receive outside of the Breakfast and Lunch program is very important. As you pointed out, the laws that require physical activity and recess in schools have been severely reduced. There are many other factors contributing to childhood obesity. Overall, I was very disappointed with the misinformation presented and also the premise that Chefs can do a better job than Nutrition professionals. While Chefs have culinary expertise they do not have the training or background in the science of human nutrition. It might’ve been nice had you included a Child Nutrition Professional on the judging panel before assuming chefs know what is needed in this program that is really misunderstood by the public. With all the accusations in the media, it’s sad that no bothers to ask the Child Nutrition experts how the program works or what changes are needed. In many School Lunch programs, those served include infants, toddlers, and children from age 3 to age 21. School lunch programs administer meals to daycares, Head Start, Early Head Start, National School Lunch, Breakfast, and Breakfast in the classroom, After school snacks, Summer Food Service, the U.S.D.A. Fresh Fruit and Vegetable grant, provide special diets, Farm to School, participate in US Healthier School Challenge, work with national grants and research, and collaborate with Agricultural Extension agencies, Medical schools and the Food Bank. You really should do your homework before you assume that school lunch is responsible for childhood obesity-you should find out how all of these programs work and all the federal regulations involved. Even when chefs work in the school lunch program-they have a lot to learn. What else can I say?... Chicken cooked in Sherry! …. right...

rugwithlegs
rugwithlegs

Your blog is highly socially relevant, deeply informative, and at times poignant and very passionate overall. You’re a very articulate writer and very well informed and thank you for what you share with us. You prove to me again and again that chefs deserve a place at the forefront of social change. You justify the faith the First Lady is placing in your profession and you make me believe chefs can rise to the challenge.

The episode itself and the cheftestants – not so much. Even the winning teams were highlighted as being petty and silly. The lack of drive and judgment in the bottom teams was appalling. At least it's early in the season.

TonyXL
TonyXL

Thank you for pointing out the problem with farm subsidies--they only go to whoever can afford to lobby for them, which is basically large agri-business corporations.

I think the problem with school lunches is the public school system itself. There's no incentive for public schools to provide creative, nutritious food because students are forced to there and there is no competition.

Midwest Mom
Midwest Mom

WOW! Can I get some more information on some of the programs you mentioned, such as the free breakfast in the classrooms. I have so much concern for my son as he enters school in the fall; I completely agree with everything you're saying about school lunches and children's nutrition in general. I'd love to somehow start some programs here where I live.