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Sustainable food education at Nardin Academy

WBFO News photo by EIleen Buckley

More and more schools are providing healthier food options for students. One private Catholic school in Buffalo launched a sustainable program this past fall in its dinning hall. WBFO's Eileen Buckley visited Nardin Academy during a lunch break to find out how the school is cooking from scratch.

"Cooking from scratch, local food as much as we can, and really hoping that the kids eat it. It's so real and so truthful that it is contagious," said Greg Christian, a sustainable education food expert who founded the Chicago-based Beyond Green Partners.

Credit WBFO News photos by Eileen Buckley
Greg Christian is a sustainable education food expert.
Credit WBFO News photo by EIleen Buckley
One of the lunch periods at Nardin's dinning hall.

Christian was hired by the school to help manage the Sustainable Nardin food program. The school, on average, serves about 250 meals a day to Nardin elementary and high school students.

Homemade lunches are being made with homegrown foods. Nardin invites guest chefs from local restaurants to help create an entrees for its students. Christian said teaming with area restaurants "connects the school back to its community".

"Now, as the world changes, they're trying to include community and be of the community. So the easiest way is lets get some local food in the kids mouths. And the second way is bring in community-respected people to come cook for the kids," said Christian. 

But this sustainability program reaches beyond the schools dining hall walls. 

"It's is really about people first," said Jana Eisenberg, director of Communications at Nardin.  

Credit WBFO News photos by Eileen Buckley
Inside Nardin's kitchen where some foods are being made from scratch.

The school traces back more than 150 years and has had a long tradition of connecting with people in the community and doing good for others.  Now it's supporting community sustainability.                                

"Not  just Nardin, but also with other vendors, local farmers, with the Co-op, University at Buffalo, with the Massachusetts Avenue Project -- all different kinds of gardening and farms and food producers,and  making sure that we're spending our money well, giving kids what they want, giving parents what they want, and making sure that we are sort of also using it as a teaching tool and integrating it into our curriculum," said Eisenberg.

As part of the program, under Christian's guidance, the school tracks food waste, watching what's made, how much is sold, what is thrown out and what students are not eating. 

"We measure food waste in three areas: production, overproduction and leftover food. Food gone bad. Plate waste. So we really watch what kids are buying and then the decision is, if we don't sell a lot of it, do we preserve or pivot?," said Christian.  

Credit WBFO News photo by EIleen Buckley
Students line up for tacos.

As 5th through 8th graders wait in line for homemade tacos, Christian's daughter Aja assists her father in severing the students. Many opted for chicken tacos, considered a fun meal.

"I think it has been a positive reaction, overall. We just did the younger grades first through fourth, and I walked around a little bit afterwards and asked them and I got a positive response. A lot of them liked the rice. Some said the onions and salsa were a little too strong. For the younger kids, I understand. I think the older kids are receiving it a bit better," said Aja Christian.

Credit WBFO News photo by EIleen Buckley
Inside Nardin's dinning hall.

Those chicken tacos were the creation of Merge restaurant. Sarah Schneider and her sister co-own Merge. Both are former Nardin graduates and were thrilled to return to their school and serve as “lunch ladies” for the day to introduce students to new tastes.

"I was excited to have a new venue.  We were a little concerned about what kids would eat. We tried some purple cabbage and I've been telling people purple is a whole new color, it's a whole new vitamins, so you can get a mix of nutrition," said Schneider. "I've been trying to get them to sample it, but some kids have been a little concerned about it."

Credit WBFO News photo by EIleen Buckley
8th grader Nicholas Revelas enjoys a chicken taco.

Cooking from scratch means using less processed items. Eighth grader Nicholas Revelas was enjoying his taco and his says his classmates like the new, healthier choices.

"When they think of buying - they think like not really healthy -- but now that this is here it's a better choice," said Revelas, who said it is helping him eat healthier. 

"I think it does. I think these choices are healthier than previous years," said Revelas.                                                                                  

The school did its homework in preparing this sustainability program.

"So we sampled them...we spent a lot of time engaging them and talking them," said Leslie Johnson, vice president of finance at the school. 

Through surveys and strategic planning what kids interested in are eating and what they want to learn in the classroom.

Credit WBFO News photo by EIleen Buckley
Students separate lunch trash.

"They wanted a little autonomy.  A great understanding of what it meant to compost and recycle," Johnson said.

The program reaches into the students school work. A math class is actually keeping track of waste management to see if there are improvements inside school. They butterfly garden outside and makes compost.

At the end of meals in the dining hall, 4th through 12th graders are urged to sort out their food garbage for compost and recycling.