March 25, 2023
Our In-house Lunch Program- Behind the Scenes: Tomatoes
Several years ago it was decided that it was time for Clanmore to launch its own in-house hot lunch program. Together, Wendy McCrae and I embarked on this journey and project. Now in our third year and providing daily lunches for over sixty children, we would like to share with you some of our thoughts about the program, our philosophy about healthy, wholesome food and our vision for the future.
Our society has become aware of the inherent high cost of fast food. It is cheap in price but as we have come to learn, low in nutritional value and in many cases a passport to obesity and diabetes. Even fast food chains have altered and adapted their menus making more items from scratch and incorporating healthier versions of favourites without the high sodium, sugar and unhealthy fat content.
Consumers are leading a great food awakening. Look at the produce aisles in supermarkets where organic, heritage, and locally grown products are now featured and accessible. In the past, junk food was the mainstay and real wholesome food was few and far between. The tables have turned where more people are realizing the importance of eating well. The medical community now views food as medicine and the diets we live by as the new frontier of nutritional science.
Healthy food is fresh food, whole food, low on the processing chain. We still have a lot of work to do to make it as convenient, affordable, and accessible as junk food, especially for children. This objective was paramount in our minds as we worked on the menu for the luncheon program.
When Wendy and I first met to discuss our direction, we realized we were in for a bit of a challenge. Even with the best of efforts, it would be unrealistic to think it would be easy to satisfy all the diverse palettes of a large group of children. We decided the best approach would be to focus on kids’ favourites, familiar and comforting. We would make as much of the food as possible from scratch and we would opt for healthier versions of classics.
The children were asked for their input as well. We surveyed each of the classrooms and gave them the opportunity to voice their opinions as to what they wanted to see in their lunch program. Many of these items were incorporated into the menu. As well, each classroom was provided with a suggestion box so they could continue to give us their feedback.
One of the dishes we have included is chicken strips cut on-site from whole chicken breasts, dipped in a three-stage breading station of flour and seasonings, eggs and buttermilk, and then coated with crushed cornflakes. The seasonings of paprika, basil, sage and marjoram build the flavor profile not an excess amount of sodium. The chicken strips are then baked not fried and are served with roasted baby potatoes. Each lunch is served with sides of fresh fruit and vegetables cut into serving sizes easy for the children to handle.
Another lunch served which has become a Clanmore favourite is our made from scratch Mac and Cheese. A white Béchamel sauce is the base for our cheddar cheese sauce, made fresh for each group served. Butter, flour, paprika, dry mustard, pepper, milk, grated cheddar cheese and freshly cooked elbow pasta combine into a delicious creamy dish the children love.
Wednesday is soup day at Clanmore and each week we feature a made from scratch soup. One of our classic lunches is our whole wheat grilled cheese sandwich served with home-made tomato alphabet soup. We would like to share this recipe with you and the process involved so you can have a glimpse of what goes on behind the scenes.
2 teaspoons of pre-chopped garlic
2 stalks of celery
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 x 14 oz. cans of whole peeled tomatoes
6 large ripe tomatoes – leave the green stems on!
¼ bunch fresh basil, stems removed, chopped
One 5.5 can of tomato paste
7 ½ cups low sodium chicken stock (or vegetable broth)
Pinch of sugar (if needed) *
White pepper to taste
Cooked alphabet pasta
Our home-made tomato soup is a classic and there is no comparison between this version and store bought canned when it comes to flavor and nutrition. The main ingredient – a lovely tray of fresh whole tomatoes.
Wash all vegetables then cut the carrots, garlic, onions and celery into small uniform pieces. Toss together in a medium bowl. Place a large pot on medium heat and add 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Add vegetables and cook for 10 – 15 minutes until the carrots have softened and the onion is lightly golden.
Add the canned and fresh tomatoes including the green stalks that may still be attached to some of them (they add flavor and nutrition.) Add the chicken stock (or vegetable broth) then turn the heat up high and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium-low, put the lid on and simmer for about 20 minutes (or until cooked through, stirring occasionally.)
Reduce heat to stop bubbling then stir in the chopped basil.
Carefully ladle into a blender and puree until smooth. This will take several blender fills (be sure to remove small plastic cap piece of the blender so a vacuum is not created and cover with a towel while you blend.) Pour pureed soup into a china cap strainer clipped over a clean pot to strain out the thick vegetable fibres.
Stir in sugar (as needed) and pepper and taste to check flavor.
Add the desired amount of alphabet pasta, stir and serve.
*Taste your sauce at the very end of cooking. If it tastes a little too acidic, that’s when you add a pinch of sugar. Add it just like you would add salt: a little bit at a time, until you get the flavor you want.
The luncheon trolley is ready to roll – healthy, nutritious and eye pleasing!
Our tomato soup also serves as the base for our Italian tomato sauce used for several other lunches. We add Italian seasoning, bay leaves, tomato paste and the vegetable puree left from our tomato soup (nothing is wasted!)
Even the Alphaghetti we serve originates with our delicious tomato soup – no canned alphaghetti for our kids!
Healthy eating is also balanced eating including a celebratory splurge now and then. The children love our chicken balls with rice day. We do not make the chicken balls on site but we carefully selected a brand with chunks of white chicken meat and a minimal coating of batter. They are a treat everyone looks forward to and they are a healthier version of a favoured food we are comfortable including in our menu.
Over the past three years Wendy and I have learned together, grown together, worried and laughed together. We have never wavered in our commitment to provide healthy food to our Clanmore children and we look forward to expanding the program to include many more varieties of foods and luncheon combinations.
A thought to leave you with…..healthy means eating delicious food made with loving intent.
Until next time, eat well, laugh often!