Atypical cafeteria cuisine

Ishpeming middle schoolers sample healthy foods

Ethan Corp, a fifth-grader at Ishpeming Middle School, tries healthy treats during a Wednesday food sampling at the school. Fruits and vegetables were the main focus. (Journal photo by Christie Bleck)

ISHPEMING — There weren’t many scrunched-up faces, if any at all, when Ishpeming Middle School students tasted kale salad and fruit pizza Wednesday morning — proof positive that healthy food can be tasty if prepared well.

Health teacher Ryan Reichel said the event came about by a grant through Project Healthy Schools.

“It’s just given us an opportunity for the kids to try some healthier options, especially with summer coming along and the fresh fruits and veggies that they can try,” Reichel said.

Fifth- and sixth-graders sampled nutritious treats in the cafeteria courtesy of Calvin Attwell, who works for the Great Lakes sector of foodservice contractor Chartwells.

While preparing the food for the students, Attwell explained the importance of eating fresh food and vegetables.

And it wasn’t just celery sticks, although they were offered to the students.

The food samples included items that could have found a place on an upscale restaurant menu: three different types of hummus made from ingredients like roasted red peppers and garlic, and various smoothie varieties.

After asking the youngsters if they knew what makes up hummus — beans and oil being a few ingredients — he was pleasantly surprised to find out most of them did.

“It’s something to make at home if you have a blender,” Attwell said. “There’s thousands and thousands of recipes online, so have fun this summer. Explore making hummus. Introduce your parents because most of them probably have never heard of it. They probably don’t even want to try it.”

Kale salad was available to students as well, with Attwell noting it would be drenched in a pineapple vinaigrette dressing to offset the kale’s slight bitterness.

That probably was a good move considering he was trying to get kids to actually eat more foods like kale, not spit it into their napkins.

As with hummus, through a show of hands he discovered many youngsters already were familiar with it.

“That’s a lot more than I was expecting,” Attwell said. ‘I’m impressed with you guys.”

In fact, he is a proponent of using kale in at least one way.

“The benefits of having kale in your salad is that unlike iceberg and romaine, it’s not going to wilt as quick, so it holds up a lot better so you can do a kale salad ahead of time and have it all summer long,” Attwell said.

The fresh fruit offered Wednesday included bananas, green apples and strawberries.

Attwell acknowledged the often-frigid local climate is a challenge to access such nutritious food.

“Up here, it’s a little difficult to get it,” Attwell said. “One of the best options as a substitute for fresh fruit and veggies in the winter is a frozen product. The reason this is an option is because the fruits and veggies are picked at the peak ripeness and flash-frozen, so all their nutrients are sealed in, and there’s no nutrients loss, and the freshness is always going to be there.”

He suggested that, entering the summer months, students keep in mind composting, which involves putting food scraps in a special bin.

“The reason for composting is it provides the nutrition — nutrient-rich soil — for your gardens, and it also saves on waste going into the landfill,” Attwell said. “That way you can cut down on your garbage bags going out on the curb every week.”

He also gave a few cooking tips, such as keeping electronic devices off the counter, relying instead on cookbooks.

“Cookbooks are made to get dirty,” Attwell said. “They’re made to get wet, they’re made to get oily. Electronics? Not so much.”

Severed fingers also are not a desired part of food preparation, so he suggested they curl their fingers in a “bear claw” formation to protect their hands while cutting food.

Fifth-grader Olivia Gartner enjoyed her healthy mid-morning snack, targeting the big strawberries. However, she’s already been exposed to nutritious food.

For dinner at home, her family has the choice of eating the main dish, a salad, and a fruit and vegetable.

“You have to take at least a small bit of each,” Olivia said.

Her stepmother, she added, also makes homemade bread.

“It is the best,” Olivia said.

Christie Bleck can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 250. Her email address is