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September 12, 2019
This Chef’s Passion for Healthy Food is Bringing Change to Amherst Schools

Every kid deserves a healthy breakfast. With support of Project Bread, Amherst-Pelham school district has made it a priority to create five new breakfast dishes to give students a healthy start to their day. For an inside look, we talked to Chef Jamil Asaad, whose passion for healthy food is bringing change to school breakfast.

For kids who start their day hungry, school breakfast can make the difference between sitting unfocused at their desk and a productive day of learning. The key is a healthy meal that tastes good and is available to every student. 

Project Bread is working with schools to improve their school breakfast programs in order to enhance the health and quality of the food being served, and to make sure that more students can access school breakfast. This year we were able to award $123,000 in grants to school districts across Massachusetts to help them better their breakfast programs. 

Amherst-Pelham was one of those school districts. They used the support to hire Executive Chef Jamil Asad to collaborate with Project Bread and cafeteria staff from the district to create five new healthy breakfast dishes. With students back in school, they are sampling each new creation. Those found tastiest by the students will be added to the regular rotation on the districtwide menu!

With students back in school, we sat down with Chef Jamil for an update.

What’s one thing you’d like people to know about hunger in Massachusetts schools?

It’s a real problem that’s been affecting students for far too long. School is the perfect opportunity for giving kids from low-income backgrounds access to nutritious food.  Kids shouldn’t have to worry about being hungry while they’re at school. They’re supposed to be working on academics. We have to start looking at school meals the way we look at sports and other programs that are just part of the whole school system. School meals shouldn’t be seen as a separate entity.

Did you have breakfast at school when you were a kid?

I grew up in Puerto Rico, and we had all kinds of local food for breakfast at school. It was served before the first bell, so I always wanted to be early so I could grab something to eat.

What’s been one of your most memorable experiences while working with Amherst?

That would definitely be having kids try the food we’ve prepared and then talk about how good it is even though at first they were hesitant about liking certain ingredients, like some of the vegetables.

As a chef, It makes me really happy to know that we can get kids to eat healthy food just because it tastes good!

Have you encountered anything that just broke your heart?

I’ve had kids pull me to the side and share with me that they’re probably not going to have dinner and then ask if they could have some more of the food we’re sampling. I have a child, imagining him having to go through that makes me feel for these kids.

What food/entree/snack have the kids loved the most this summer? What’s the recipe?

They went crazy over a roasted vegetable frittata we made. I was worried because it had  peppers, onions, and mushrooms in it, but the kids couldn’t get enough.

To make a serving for four whisk together eight eggs, a dash of milk, salt and pepper to taste, and a cup to a cup and a half of mixed vegetables like peppers, onions, and mushrooms. You might want to saute the vegetables before in order to remove some of the water and make sure they’re fully cooked. Place everything in a well-oiled baking dish and bake at 350 degrees for about 10 - 15 minutes, until the eggs appear cooked, and the center jiggles just a bit after a gentle shake.

What’s one thing you’ve learned while doing this work?

Food insecurity is a real thing. A lot of students in Massachusetts could benefit from eating healthy food that tastes good. They’re still developing, so they need the nutrition, and getting their taste oriented to healthy foods is also important at this stage if they’re going to make good choices in the future.

Have you encountered anything that filled you with hope?

Seeing how open and mindful the cafeteria staff members are and how happy they get serving the kids. For example, one of my favorite staff members is Diane. She knows all the students by name and she’s totally open to new things that will benefit them. Preparing new recipes can be a challenge at times, because it’s just something new they haven’t done before, but Diane isn’t thinking about the difficulty, she’s thinking about how good it will be for the kids.

Author(s): Project Bread

Filed under: News and Events, Children and Schools