Real Food for Kids: Changing the way we eat, one school at a time

On March 17, 2018,  Real Food for Kids  (RFFK) hosted its 6th Annual Culinary Competition & Wellness Expo at a secondary school in Alexandria, Virginia with excellent support from the community. This innovative educational outreach event had one singular objective – to engage students in the issue of school food.

“With our youth as leaders, we seek to gain insight into potential school nutrition solutions as our students share their creativity and enthusiasm in a competitive format.”

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Real Food for Kids began as a voice for improving school food and is now a trusted partner within the school system and surrounding communities across the United States. RFFK has earned a deserved reputation for providing valuable programs for students and their families through a positive and collaborative approach.

The RFFK mission:

“To collaborate with school communities to elevate the quality and character of school food, develop and deliver programs that advance literacy in nutrition and health, and engage students, parents, and schools in building a culture of health that spreads to their home and communities.”

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Attracting 275 parents, educators, and community members, this Culinary Competition, open to all middle and high school student teams, taught students about healthy eating, encouraged teamwork, and highlighted student culinary talents. Teams competed to create a lunch that met USDA guidelines for school meals and participated in a showcase of dishes that could be adapted for school use.

This event aimed to achieve the following objectives:

  • Engage students in the process of school food so that they learn about the nutritional guidelines and cost implications of creating a lunch entree.
  • Provide opportunities for students to meet professional chefs and learn about career pathways in the culinary field.
  • Secure a commitment to have the winning entree put on the school food menu in Fairfax County in the 2018–2019 school year.
  • Highlight the growth in demand for vegetarian/vegan options in school food and why this is important for good health.
  • Educate culinary students and attendees on health topics in a plenary format that provides information and resources in a friendly way.

How it worked

  1. Students entered a team in the Lunch Competition (“Viva Vegetarian”) or the Showcase (“Back 2 Basics Breakfast” or “Snack”).
  2. Teams in both categories were challenged to create a delicious and appealing school food item with an emphasis on nutritional balance.
  3. Real Food for Kids selected up to 10 teams (2–4 students) for the Competition and up to 10 teams (2–4 students) for the Showcase category.
  4. The Expo plenary focused on creating links between the cafeteria, the classroom, and the home to build healthful eating habits.

The event received plenty of enthusiastic feedback, and the teams enjoyed the experience.

“The challenge to develop a vegetarian dish was really fun. We eat a lot of vegetarian dishes at home. My dad’s black bean burger was the inspiration for our dish, but we switched it up with our own spices and added the guacamole. We got second place so the judges must have really liked it.” – Henry, from Sandburg Middle School

The Results!

  • Excellent community support. Real Food For Kids received an incredible amount of feedback from community leaders about the event itself and the work that they’ve been doing to increase the amount of healthy food in schools and engaging students in the process.
  • The demand for additional information by participants regarding vegan and vegetarian options was notably higher this year than in prior years, and organizers believe people came specifically to obtain this information.
  • Five school districts and D.C. Central Kitchen (who has a contract with 15 schools in the District of Columbia) will be putting one of the winning entries on their school menu, which will reach nearly 350,000 students in the region! Discussions are also underway with other school districts to do the same, which would impact an additional 81,000 students.

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“Each year this event delights and surprises us. We see so much creativity from the students and so much enthusiasm to participate. It’s very clear to us that engaging students in the process of developing dishes for the school food menu is a win-win. They are the consumers – where better to get recipes that will be successful than from the kids eating them? When you hear from a team member things like ‘I would so eat this’ about their own dish, you know you’re headed in the right direction.” – Mary Porter, Director of Programs

Consider hosting an event like this Culinary Challenge in your area. VegFund may be able to support you. Check out our program guidelines for more information and apply for a VegFund grant today!

Activist Spotlight: Lowcountry Vegan Community Outreach

Lowcountry Vegan Community Outreach held a Food Sampling stall at their local Earth Day festival in April, reaching 50 environmentally-concerned people with lots of wonderful vegan food and educational literature! Activists served Daiya and Field Roast products as well as choc chip cookies, and they distributed Compassion Over Killing’s ‘Eating Sustainably’ and Vegan Outreach’s ‘Compassionate Choices’ literature.

Lowcountry Vegan Community Outreach -  Earth Day Festival 2016

Lowcountry Vegan Community Outreach
Earth Day Festival 2016

VegFund spoke with group founder, Lauren to find out more…

VegFund: What inspired you to get involved in vegan outreach?

Lowcountry Vegan Community Outreach: Going vegan itself inspired me to be involved in spreading the message. Once educated on the issues, I felt compelled to share the information, to advance the movement. I credit the Sonoma County vegan community for initially engaging that desire. From there, I felt empowered to strike out on my own and keep it up.

VF: What other activism and/or vegan events have you been involved in?

LVCO: I have enjoyed tabling and leafleting on a semi-regular basis. When I last moved to an area with no vegan groups, I decided to start one, Lowcountry Vegan Community Outreach.

VF: What were some of the common responses and/or discussions you had during this event?

LVCO: On the occasion of Earth Day, I often opened up discussions referencing the environmental impacts of food choices. Since all attendees had just participated in a river and neighborhood clean-up, I figured (correctly) that they were more open to vegan food than the overall local population. Many women presented a casual interest, but it was men especially who exclaimed with pleasant surprise upon tasting the samples.

VF: What was the highlight of this event for you?

LVCO: The highlight was being swarmed by a group of middle-schoolers, all of whom loved the samples and readily took the informational brochures and one of whom explained that when she’s done “growing up” and allowed (by her parents or of an independent age), she plans on becoming vegan. She spoke eloquently about dairy milk being for the calves, so I have faith in her, but she was running off when I wanted to explain away any nutritional concerns; so my husband yelled out, “keep influencing your friends!”

VF: What barriers did you face during the hosting of this event?

LVCO: The only limiting factor was the attendance, but it was expected for a town of its population, but capitalizing on a community event that attracted eco-conscious people was a great opportunity nonetheless.

VF: Do you have any quotes/paraphrases from attendees at your event or anecdotes that may be of interest to other activists?

LVCO: My advice is to work with your situation. As I currently live in a relatively sparse and sprawling area, I still can make a difference in the local communities. One can plant seeds, reach out, and create change anywhere.

There are many ways to inspire people with your outreach efforts, and VegFund would love to help you! Please read our Grant Programs Overview for information on the types of grants available and how to apply.

 

Food, Glorious Food!

“From Grant-Based Activism to a Plant-Based Career” – A webinar with a former VegFund grantee

As vegans, we celebrate plant-based foods as delicious, healthful, ethical, and compassionate. Plant-based foods are now one of the fastest-growing segments of the food-service industry. If you’ve ever entertained thoughts of working in the area of vegan food service, read on!

Last month, Liz Gary, founder of the New Options Food Group in San Diego and former VegFund grantee joined us to present our third activist training webinar “From Grant-Based Activism to a Plant-Based Career.” Liz shared her experience in the vegan food business along with her insider recommendations for finding or creating new career opportunities as plant-based foods professionals — whether full-time/career-track or part-time.

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We hope those of you who joined us found the topic inspiring. For those of you who were not able to attend, you can view the full presentation at VegFund’s  Activist Resource Center. Below is just a “taste” of the valuable information Liz conveyed in the webinar.

“Everywhere you go there is opportunity.” ~ Liz

Liz’s tips on getting started in the vegan food business and where to find or create jobs fell into the following categories:

  • Community engagement
  • Rewarding jobs in education
  • Representing plant-based foods manufacturers and consulting in the food service industry
  • Culinary travel and tourism
  • Special events and media

Community engagement

Get involved in the local community

  • Find out what events are happening near you — green fairs, cooking classes, food tastings, community markets, etc.
  • Better still — organize your own vegan food fair! You can apply for grant support from VegFund here.
  • Watch for paid and voluntary opportunities at nonprofit animal rights organizations such as The Humane League, Vegan Outreach, Farm Sanctuary, and FARM
  • And network, network, network!
Photograph courtesy of VegFest UK

Photograph courtesy of VegFest UK

 “Outreach and community engagement translate into growth in the plant-based foods economy.” ~ Liz

Rewarding jobs in education

Consider teaching or setting up a “vegan cook club” within your local community! The following venues offer great opportunities to educate and engage with your community:

  • Retail kitchen stores
  • Cooking schools
  • Local community colleges, high schools, your local public library
  • Hospitals
  • Test-kitchen Tuesdays (donation-based community classes)

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Representing plant-based foods manufacturers and consulting in the food service industry

Offer your plant-based food expertise and consult with the main drivers of the food network:

  • Represent locally made plant-based products
  • Sell your products and services to your local hospitals
  • Consult with chefs
  • Get \on-board with popular political food days, such as Meatless Mondays and California Fresh Thursdays and use these as an opportunity to work more closely with your local schools
  • Work with food administrators and distributors at correctional institutions
Photograph Courtesy of Food Tank

Photograph Courtesy of Food Tank

 Culinary travel and tourism

Excite your local community with the offer of organized day trips to learn more about the benefits of plant-based foods. The following suggestions are popular options:

  • Vegan restaurant trips
  • Trips to Whole Foods Market
  • Visit an animal sanctuary
  • Vegan food and fashion shopping trips
  • Visit a nonprofit animal rights office
  • And more!
Moses the Pig (Photograph Courtesy of Catskill Animal Sanctuary)

Moses the Pig (Photograph Courtesy of Catskill Animal Sanctuary)

 Special events and media

Holiday-themed events are a great starting point for engaging your community, especially if they translate well into a great local story or news item.

  • Organize events around annual vegan holidays and national events, and get your community involved along the way; for example, Vegan Valentine’s Fun Run, Vegan Octoberfest, Cookie Bake-a-thon
  • Talk to news organizations (whether print or TV) about vegan food
  • Arrange lunch-time talks within local schools and workplaces
Kindred Spirits Care Farm Food Day LA 2015

Kindred Spirits Care Farm Food Day LA 2015

There are many opportunities waiting for you. Take the first steps today and build from there. Find out more about VegFund’s grant programs to support activists in their vegan outreach efforts.

The full webinar recording and slide show summary of key points are now available in our Activist Resource Center, where you can view all webinars from the training series so far. We also provide other online resources to support you in your animal advocacy.

If you have suggestions for resources you’d like to see featured on here send them our way for consideration. Email info@vegfund.org or tell us on social media. You can find us on Facebook and on Twitter. If you have specific questions for Liz on the content of this webinar, you can contact her directly via email: liz@newoptionsfoodgroup.com.