Farm to School

Linda Mercier prepares organic green beans for lunch at Desert Garden Montessori. The school switched to an organic and local menu about five years ago.

Morgan Sailor/Special to aFN

Desert Garden Montessori in Ahwatukee recently received the 2014 Golden Carrot Award from The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine for the excellence of its lunch menu for students.

The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine — a nonprofit medical organization of 12,000 doctors — established the Golden Carrot Award in 2004 in efforts to recognize K-12 schools that are providing nutritional meals to its students.

According to a statement, the committee examines schools throughout the county on the types of lunch programs that encourage students to eat more fresh fruits and vegetables and that offer vegetarian, low-fat, whole-grain and nondairy options.

“Desert Garden’s lunch program is setting up students for success today and in the future,” said Physicians Committee dietitian Cameron Wells in a statement. “Establishing good habits early will dramatically reduce their chances for developing obesity, heart disease and diabetes later in life.”

Desert Garden Montessori was one of three schools nationwide to win the Golden Carrot Award, and its received a $1,500 grand prize that goes toward its food service program.

Desert Garden Montessori provides its students with a balanced meal selection from its Organic Lunch Program, which serves an almost entirely plant- and fruit-based menu. All fruits and vegetables on the menu are purchased from local farmers.

Shetal Walter, director of Desert Garden Montessori, said the school tries to stress the importance of a healthy nutrition to its families and students.

“We’re all about trying to build a whole-child experience, and part of that are nutrition, health and wellness,” she said. “Our whole plan was to plant the seed by feeding the kids this beautiful food and teaching them and educating them along the way. We create menus that revolve around plant-based, nutritious food that is healthy and has all kinds of outcomes that are nutritionally sound for children.”

Linda Mercier, organic kitchen manager at Desert Garden Montessori, said her and her staff creates lunch entrees from black bean tacos, heirloom tomato soup, rice and beans, Thai curry and Indian food to whole-wheat pasta with vegetable marinara sauce.

Mercier rotates the lunch menu periodically in order to offers students a variety of meals throughout the school year.

“We’re showing that kids can eat healthy,” she said. “It’s not that hard to make food that is healthy for children, and we should be focusing on healthy foods for kids right now. We’re showing a school can actually do that, and we do it quite well.”

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