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Crosby Principal Aaron Dean took over cooking duties on Thursday.

'Chefs In Schools' Brings Healthy Eating to Pittsfield Children

By Andy McKeeveriBerkshires Staff
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The students get a taste test from chef Guy Koppe to help determine if the meal should be on the lunch menu in the future.
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Eat well, sleep well, and exercise are the keys to a healthy life. Thanks to Blue Cross Blue Shield, the first of which is being instilled in young children throughout the city schools through Project Bread's "Chefs in Schools" program.
One of the Boston-based Project Bread's initiatives, it brings chefs into schools to help train cafeteria staff, test out new recipes, and teach children about healthy eating — even getting the picky eaters to try new things.
The overall goal is to teach the importance of healthy eating and on Thursday school officials joined in a demonstration of the meals the project brings to the schools.
"We partner with school districts who are looking to increase the fresh fruits and vegetable and the quality of the school meals. Essentially, it is a culinary training program for the school staff that also we pair with sampling and menu testing with kids," chef Sam Icklan said. "We develop recipes that meet the school lunch requirements and also involve fresh fruits and veggies."
The chef-educator has been able to mesh both teaching and cooking through the program. Icklan said the non-profit this year chose six city schools where runs the program two days a week. For the last six weeks, he has been at Crosby Elementary School and he'll be moving on to the high schools and middle schools. 
In Thursday's demonstration, he showed what is involved with a tasting of chicken teriyaki. He handed our recipe cards to the children, explaining that it is a relatively easy dish to make, showed how it is made, and then asked for feedback. That feedback determines whether or not the meal will be on the menu.
"If they don't like it, we use that feedback to tweak the recipes and sometimes we just have to say that wasn't a hit and go back to the drawing board," Icklan said. "It engages cafeteria staff, kids, the school community at large."
Icklan has a long history of cooking and for the last eight years has focused on cooking in schools. But for Thursday's demonstration, he let Principal Aaron Dean give it shot.
"These are the fun things as a principal. You get to have fun with the kids and that's a good thing," Dean said.
Joining in on Thursday's demonstration were Mayor Linda Tyer, Superintendent Jason McCandless, Deputy Superintendent Joseph Curtis, Superintendent for Business and Finance Kristin Behnke, Ellen Parker from Project Bread, and Guy Koppe, another chef-educator with the program. All of them spent time visiting lunch tables to chat and teach about the food. 
"We need to eat healthy, get good sleep, and get exercise," Tyer reminded the students.

Chicken teriyaki was on the menu Thursday.
Dean praised the program for its ability to help connect the students to fresh fruits and vegetables than many of them don't get. 
"Project Bread was a nice opportunity for us. It gave us a chance to make a link between the local community farmers' market and the school. Students in this community don't often get an experience or exposed to a lot of fresh vegetables and ways to eat healthy. This program allowed us to bring a chef into the schools and give students a flavor of different things," Dean said.
"It really just gave them a chance to try things they might not otherwise try."
That link can be found through the Pittsfield Farmer's Market as well. The students on Thursday were all given $5 coupons for the market to take home. Both the Chefs in Schools program and the Farmers' Market is supported by Blue Cross Blue Shield.
"We have a healthy living agenda. How we describe healthy living is healthy eating, active lifestyles and healthy environments. We've been partnering with Project Bread for a long time. We launched this program a number of years ago with Project Bread and we are now partnering across the state," said Jeff Bellows, vice president of corporate citizenship and public affairs for Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts.
The state had previously funded the program but it was cut from the budget in 2016. Blue Cross Blue Shield stepped in to fund the project throughout the state. And it isn't just educational. It's fun.
"I like to try to shift the culture to trying new things and offering stuff to kids in this fun, engaging, low-pressure environment," Icklan said.

Tags: childrens health,   cooking ,   Crosby School,   nutrition,   

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