By Ferris Garel
“My favorite snacks are apples, carrots and grapes,” explained Sewitt, an eighth grade student at Shaw Middle School. Sewitt was formerly a fan of chips and cookies, foods implicated in America’s ongoing obesity epidemic and the poor health outcomes associated with excess calories.
Sewitt learned to look at food in a new way when the MicroGreens project came to his school. The eight-week program, created by local chef Alli Sosna, is designed to teach good nutrition while transforming middle school students into chefs.
Sosna’s varied career has taken her from high-end gourmet establishments including the Inn at Little Washington and Dean and Deluca to the Food Network show CHOPPED to the nonprofit DC Central Kitchen (DCCK) which feeds and employs the District’s poor and homeless through innovative food recycling and culinary training programs. She left DCCK in June of 2012 to started MicroGreens, in hopes of expanding access to healthy food to District children..
Her recipe combines hands on cooking instruction, meat cutting, vegetable dicing, with a focus on healthy meal planning on a fixed budget. Students learned to get the most nutrition for their money in simple ways, such as buying brown rice instead of white rice, and by adding vegetables to their meals.
“I wanted to give kids the confidence and creativity to make good-for-you, delicious meals on the equivalent of a SNAP budget.” All MicroGreen menus can feed a family of four for $3.50, which is the value of the federal government’s Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (formerly known as Food Stamps). In 2012, nearly 20 percent of Americans will apply for the SNAP program.
The final class in Sewitt’s MicroGreens course featured a Top “Cheap” Chef competition that included teams of kids competing for a prize. Chicken stir-fry was the menu. Students were graded on their chopping, dicing, meat carving, and seasoning skills. Guest chefs joined Sosna to select the winners.
“During the program the kids really cultivated their culinary skills,” stated Sosna proudly. The MicroGreens curriculum included herb chicken soup, coffee crusted pork soup with rice and sweet potatoes, and pulled pork sandwiches with pickled carrots.
Joshua, one of the Top “Cheap” Chef winners, said he has been enjoying using his culinary expertise at home.
“I liked learning how to eat more for less money. Now I cook with my parents and help them understand what foods are good to eat.”
Sosna, who also runs a catering company that donates 8 percent of its earnings to MicroGreens, hopes to expand MicroGreens through grants and partnerships in 2013.