Nourishing Hero: Kelly Anderson

This is the latest installment in our Nourishing Heroes series, in which we feature the individuals and organizations who inspire us with food that nourishes body, soul and planet. Do you know a Nourishing Hero we should feature on NOURISH Evolution? Let us know who inspires you!

If you’ve been following the saga of British chef Jamie Oliver’s latest installment of ABC series “Food Revolution,” which is filming now in Los Angeles, you know the city’s school district has banned him from the schools. Whether the L.A. Unified School District has something to hide or simply isn’t interested in Oliver’s TV-ready antics is hard to say (it’s probably both). But let’s just say Oliver’s relationship with the City of Angels is off to a rocky start.

But Kelly Anderson, a mom in Glendale, Calif., shows that you don’t need a camera crew and celebrity status to make a profound difference in school food.

After working in PR and marketing for 10 years, Anderson decided to follow her passion for food and went through the culinary program at a local community college in 2008. Her daughter inspired her to focus her talents on developing young palates through her consulting business, The Lunch Bunch.

“She had just started preschool,” says Anderson. “They had an amazing commercial kitchen that had never been used to cook meals for the kids. I started testing recipes at the school for the kids, and they really liked it.”

Soon, other parents asked her to develop a healthy menu for the preschool. Anderson created healthy, kid-friendly dishes like veggie-topped pizzas, turkey tacos and baked chicken tenders breaded in crushed whole-grain Goldfish crackers. Many parents were pleasantly surprised to see their kids happily eating vegetables.

Anderson has several ways to encourage the kids to eat their veggies. Serving a variety of foods at schools uses “positive peer pressure from the other kids,” she says. “If they see a friend eating broccoli, they’ll try it, too.”

She’s also a fan of sneaking vegetables into kids’ favorite foods. “I hide a lot of my vegetables,” she admits. Anderson’s zippy marinara sauce, below, is thickened with a generous amount of carrots, celery and onion. She’ll add shredded veggies to beef sliders and mushrooms to Bolognese sauce.

She also teaches basic cooking classes to spark kids’ interest in new foods. “Once they’re familiar with what I’m making, they’ll be more likely to try it because they were a part of making it.” It’s a tactic she recommends parents try at home.

Anderson has launched The Lunch Bunch to consult on healthy menus for schools, restaurants, families and individuals. And she continues to cater lunch for her daughter’s preschool. Parents pay her $4 per day, per child. Though that’s more generous than the current USDA school lunch reimbursement rate–26 cents per full-priced meal to $2.72 per free meal–it’s still a tight budget that requires Anderson to shop strategically.

“All our eggs and milk are organic. I try to buy organic chicken whenever I can,” she says. “I also belong to a couple of different co-ops and shop the farmers’ market. The problem is, it’s still really expensive to buy organic.”

So she makes smart compromises, like using the Environmental Working Group’s Dirty Dozen and Clean 15 lists to choose what to buy organic or picking up organic frozen berries, which typically are cheaper than fresh.

Anderson is a fan of Oliver’s efforts and sympathizes with his difficulties working with the L.A. school district. “The fact that they’re not even allowing Oliver to come in, tells me they’re not giving much thought to what they’re feeding the children,” she says. “Right now, we treat our school lunch program workers as if they are day laborers. They open up a can, they put it in a pot and they turn on the stove.”

Parents whose children are in private schools or smaller public school districts might have an easier time getting involved in their kids’ lunch programs, she says. And as long as her own daughter is in preschool, Anderson knows that she’s eating well. But when she moves up to kindergarten, Anderson may need to take her nutrition activism to the big-kids’ school.

Meet our other Nourishing Heroes:

Time for Lunch

It seems I’m meant to talk about kids’ lunches right now. This past Tuesday, I did a segment on ABC-TV’s View from the Bay on making healthy lunches fun for kids. But even better than peanut butter banana spirals is the fact that, right now, we have an opportunity to be a part of re-framing the school lunch program in America. Here to tell us all about it and how we can get involved is one of our talented new Contributors, Kurt Michael Friese.


Fifty-three years ago when President Truman signed the first School Lunch Act, he said at the ceremony that “In the long view, no nation is healthier than its children, or more prosperous than its farmers.”  Yet today in America we have steadily rising rates of childhood obesity and early-onset diabetes, so much so that if you were born after 2000 you have a startling one-in-three chance of developing diabetes before you’re old enough to vote.  If you’re a minority, that number rises to one-in-two.  America, too, has more prisoners than farmers now, and among those few remaining the average age is 57 and rising.  It seems America has failed President Truman’s vision in both the health of its children and the prosperity of its farmers. An interesting proposition: fewer farmers=less healthy food.

Yet we have the opportunity to better both sides of that equation. The Child Nutrition Act, the piece of legislation that governs what 30 million kids eat in school each day, is up for re-authorization and Slow Food USA has launched the Time for Lunch Campaign to bring about some needed change. Among the modifications they’re petitioning Congress to make are investing in healthy food (right now, schools are given roughly $1 day per student to spend on food); protecting against foods that are a proven risk to kids’ health; and fostering healthy eating habits that will last a lifetime, in part by getting kids and schools involved with local farms and gardens.

What you can do

•    Sign the petition. If you want to voice your desire for change, sign Slow Food’s petition to get real food in schools. As of this writing, more than 13,000 people have signed.

•    Go to an Eat-in. Think of an Eat-In as the marriage of the traditional picnic to the classic activism of the 1960’s Sit-Ins; this is old-fashioned activism with a hot dish to share.  In all 50 states, local Slow Food members and friends of the organization have put together more than 280 grass-roots potluck picnics to occur simultaneously on September 7th, Labor Day. From Bellingham to Bay St. Louis, Carlsbad to Cambridge, people will gather with their friends and neighbors to show their support for getting real food in schools and everyone—whether or not you’re a Slow Food member—is welcome.  Bring some food to share, preferably something homemade with local ingredients (for ideas on eco-friendly picnic ware, click here).

•    Spread the word. If you do attend a sit-in, or even if you just want to help, tell people—post on Facebook, tweet, send an e-mail blast, start a conversation in the school parking lot—about the Eat-ins and the need to bring real food into our schools.

What is “real food?” you may ask. The answer is simple: real food is food that is and does good from the ground up. It’s good for the earth, it’s good for those who grow it, it’s good for our bodies, it tastes good and makes our community, country and planet a better place. As Truman alluded to all those years ago, real food grown by real people is essential for our health–as individuals, as families and as a nation.

kurt-thumbKurt Michael Friese is the founding leader of Slow Food Iowa, serves on the Slow Food USA National Board of Directors, and is editor and publisher of the local food magazine Edible Iowa River Valley. He’s also Chef and co-owner of the Iowa City restaurant Devotay, a freelance food writer and photographer, and author of A Cook’s Journey: Slow Food in the Heartland.