By Casey Hans
Families from The Ann Arbor Preschool & Family Center have gone home with armloads of fresh, seasonal produce since last fall thanks to a wellness initiative that involves Chartwells, Food Gatherers and The Ann Arbor Public Schools’ Health and Wellness Committee.
The monthly Farmers Market has offered a bounty of fresh vegetables and fruits, as well as cooking demonstrations for families to learn how to cook and eat healthy. This month, Chartwells kicked it up a notch by providing the families with pre-cooked, reheatable chicken dinners at the monthly market; the food service provider’s regional staff cooked the dinners and offered reheating tips for families.
Chef Neil Murphy often gives cooking demonstrations at the monthly events. This month, he was busy giving sampler plates of the honey-glazed chicken, mashed potatoes and vegetables – a taste of dinner to come.
“It’s something we like to do every month,” Murphy said. “Showing them healthy ideas of things they can do at home (with the food from the market) or things they have at home already.”
Tsighe Teclemaria’s daughter attends the Preschool & Family Center and they were enjoying a sampling of the chicken dinner as he was picking her up at school. “These potatoes are good,” he said, adding that he appreciates the Farmers Market and this month’s extra chicken dinners.
His daughter will attend Mitchell Elementary School next year and he said she has enjoyed her time at the Preschool & Family Center. “She especially likes going to the library and activities,” he added. “She likes her teachers here.”
Principal Michelle Pogliano said the Farmers Market at the Ann Arbor Preschool & Family Center occurs on the second Thursday of the month and she said there would be two or three more markets in the summer, including one when the school does walk-in enrollment.
‘The pre-cooked dinners were a big hit,’ said Principal Michelle Pogliano
Pogliano said the school gets the word out to families before the Farmers Market occurs and, this time, used the SchoolMessenger parent messaging system to remind them.
“This is for any family for any program in the building,” she said. “The pre-cooked dinners were a big hit.” She said Murphy’s cooking demonstrations also have been popular with families showing them “how to use the food (from the market) and show them healthy alternatives.”
Sara Aeschbach is director of Community Education & Recreation and is also involved with district wellness initiatives. She said this month’s project is possible due to the collaboration of Food Gatherers, which supplied the food; Chartwells, which did the cooking and packaging; and the Pre-School & Family for distribution.
“There is a goal to encourage healthy eating and alternatives to fast, fatty foods,” she said. “Our initial goal is to encourage an at-home family dinner at least once per week. Hopefully, the chicken dinner project will be a nice start to that tradition among the families.”
Ann Arbor is steps ahead of even The White House, which announced last month it is getting into the school nutrition act. First Lady Michelle Obama launched a “Chefs Move to Schools” initiative in May, which has some 1,000 professional chefs signed up to help students in their local schools bring fun to fruits and vegetables and teach about food, nutrition and cooking. Obama is leading the administration’s campaign to combat childhood obesity now affecting one in three American children.