Spoons Across America Receives Grants to Expand Programs

SAA Programs Will Serve More Classrooms in 2014-15


Great news! Spoons Across America has been awarded a $20,000 grant from the Ford Foundation to expand our programming in New York City this year. With this generous support, SAA programs will reach an additional 600 students through The Dinner Party Project and Take A Taste with Spoons programs.

Earlier this summer, SAA received a grant award from the Julia Child Foundation to expand Take a Taste with Spoons from a one day program to a three day program. Our fall programs kick off in just a couple of weeks and we couldn’t be more excited!

Take a Taste with Spoons promotes the importance of fresh, local and seasonal food, explores the elements of taste, and encourages children to eat healthy, tasty foods. The Dinner Party Project engages children in the fun and excitement of planning, preparing and enjoying a meal with their parents and friends. Both programs educate children about the benefits of healthy eating.

SAA is currently accepting applications for volunteers to support fall programs. Read more about volunteer opportunities and how to apply here.

To read the entire fall newsletter, click here.

5 Reasons to Love Packing a Lunchbox

carrotsMy kids aren’t very picky eaters, but they flat out refuse to eat school food. And since my middle schooler’s lunch period is at 10:40 in the morning, she turns into a voraciously hungry and very cranky preteen by the time she gets home. Thankfully, they eat what they bring from home. Their lunch boxes return with empty containers, apple cores, and bread crusts because apparently, my kids also refuse to use the cafeteria trashcans. But I’m not complaining. Even on the most hectic days, packing three lunch boxes has become a family ritual.

Spoons Across America believes that cooking with our children and eating together as a family contributes to the development of healthy habits that will serve kids well beyond childhood. You can read more about the research-based, lifelong benefits of eating and preparing meals together here. The same can be said for preparing school lunches and snacks, which we generally eat when we’re apart. Packing school lunches and snacks with the kids provides another opportunity in the day to stop and focus on each other.

The New York Times parenting blog, The Motherlode recently published a story titled, Nine Things to Hate About Packing School Lunches (and How to Fix Them)The list rings true for me (particularly #4), and I feel stress knots forming in my shoulders just reading it. I decided to make a list of the five things I love about packing school lunches, and the stress is gone (see number #5 on my list):

1) We are what we eat. The 19th century French gastronome Jean Anthelme Brillat-Saverin wrote, “Tell me what you eat, and I’ll tell you what you are.” Our relationship with food is about our relationship with our bodies, our environment and each other. If we want our kids to be strong, and healthy individuals who make good choices, who are respectful and compassionate, who recognize that the natural world is the source of all the foods that sustain us, then food is a part of helping them become this way. Its not just about the vitamins and minerals.

2) Kids can make their own choices about food. They may try to get away with choosing a lunch that has chocolate as an ingredient in each item, but if I give my kids some guidelines, they figure out pretty quickly what their lunch should look like. A vegetable and a fruit are non-negotiables, so an apple or pineapple chunks, carrot sticks or cucumber slices, as examples, go in. Sometimes sandwiches don’t, but leftovers from dinner do. And yes, a Hershey’s Kiss or two does make the final cut.

3) Variety is the spice of life. They may want the same lunch every day, but I try to include a range of flavors, colors and textures.

4) Convenience does not have to equal junk food. Packing your own servings into reusable or recyclable containers allows you to determine serving sizes, and presents a great opportunity to talk about serving sizes with your kids. Besides, the pre-packed single servings in the supermarkets create more waste. I admit, I don’t always follow this, but I try more often than not.

5) Don’t stress. So what if my Kindergartener wants to eat the same thing every day. She’s going to eat, and that’s what I’m aiming for.

Spoons Swings into Spring with The Dinner Party Project and Agriculture Literacy Week

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Its been a busy spring for Spoons Across America! Volunteers and program leaders worked with over 3000 students participating in Agricultural Literacy Week and the Dinner Party Project. Classrooms were transformed into kitchens, and kids illustrated their favorite healthy meals using My Plate as their guide. Click on the photos below for a look at a couple of our school-based programs in action:

Time to Eat…

Time to Eat… Reflections on The Dinner Party Project by Catherine Lea

It’s time. At quarter to six on a November night, the lasagnas are coming out of the oven. Cups of bright orange soup steam on silver trays. The carpaccio gets its final sprinkle of cilantro. Our guests have begun to filter in to the cafeteria – which is decked out, tonight only, in autumn colors and handmade tissue flowers, the lunch tables transformed by brown paper runners, pitchers of fruited water, and colorful paper hand-prints. A formal place setting has been arranged with care at each seat. The room is warm with the smells of pumpkin, ginger and garlic, and the fifth grade students at PS 111 are ready to host their dinner party.


 It’s a moment that fills me with pride on their behalf. For the past seven Wednesdays, I’ve had the privilege of going into two fifth grade classrooms at PS 111, helping the radiant Hope Mirlis talk to the students about cooking, nutrition, food customs, and what it means to plan and host a dinner. Together, we have learned about eating with the seasons and balancing meals. We’ve measured out the sugar in bottles of soda (“Whoa.”) and talked about portion sizes. We’ve practiced setting the table and serving each other on our best behavior. In one memorable class, we tasted each of the components of a vinaigrette and described them –salty, sweet, lemony– before mixing them together into a concoction that the kids dubbed “VinaiGREAT.” (Well, one of them named it “Throw-Up Liquid” – guess you can’t please them all.) The students have been by turns skeptical and thrilled, shy and hamming it up – but mainly enthusiastic. The morning of the big dinner party, they were so excited that they burst into applause when we walked in the room.


 At the risk of sounding cliché, the Dinner Party Project has been as much of a learning experience for me as for the students. I grew up in rural Vermont, where it’s hard to avoid a basic knowledge of food and farming. Walk into the fifth-grade classroom in my hometown elementary school and not only will you find students that know where milk comes from, you’ll meet a few who have milked their own dairy cows. But New York City, culturally rich as it may be in a thousand other ways, it takes an active effort to get to know how your food arrived on your plate. I was impressed by how interested these city kids were in tracing their dinners and eating with the seasons.


I was even more impressed by how much they took home. In a big class that meets just once a week, it can be hard to gauge how much of our discussions about healthful eating and meaningful mealtimes actually sink in.  We also knew from the kids’ stories that it can be difficult for busy families to sit and eat together without distractions, let alone shop and cook fresh food together. That’s why I was so excited by what I later heard from parents: “My daughter has been talking about portion sizes at dinnertime.” “When I take her to the grocery store, she reads the labels of every beverage I take off the shelf: ‘Look at all that sugar, Mom.’” Parents told us their children had asked them to put their phones away at dinnertime (they also requested that at the dinner party itself) and were planning to help them prepare food at Thanksgiving. Their hard work in class was paying off at home around the dinner table.

Spoons Across America, 11/20/13

And tonight, it’s all coming together. For hours the students, with the help of some dedicated volunteers from Spoons, City Tech, and the community, have been slicing and peeling, measuring and whisking. They have wept over the pungent shallots and taken turns stirring epic proportions of thick pumpkin puree and ricotta to fill the vegetarian lasagna. They have shaved parsnip and carrots into translucent ribbons for our carpaccio salad, and practiced the knife skills we learned a few weeks ago, using safety knives to slice celery and peppers for our crudité-in-a-cup. Now, as the cafeteria fills with hungry parents and siblings, the kids are jostling for the chance to pass around the soup and salad, practicing their spiels (“Have you tried our crudité?”). I watch a student peer out from the student lounge, where we’re ladling up the last of the soup, and whisper to the crowd at large: “You’re welcome.”

Spoons Across America, 11/20/13

Thank you, I think. A week from Thanksgiving, I am full of gratitude: for the chance to be involved in this incredible program, for the weeks I’ve spent learning from Hope’s passion for food and talent with kids, for their dedicated teachers and our volunteers (some of whom stuck around long after they planned to leave this afternoon), and for the fact that we’ve somehow managed to pull it all off as the families begin to sit down. Mostly, I am thankful I got to work with these funny, talented, and enthusiastic students.

Time to eat.

Catherine Lea is a personal chef and teaches after-school cooking classes for kids. She has studied food and farming in Vermont, New York, and Cuba. She lives in Harlem and writes on regional farm and labor issues.

Thank you to Dinner Party Project Managers Hope Mirlis and Catherine Lea for working with the students at PS111 on this project. Thank you also goes to Bloomberg LP for funding the project, volunteers from City Tech, Chef Charles Rodriguez from Print Restaurant, Rose Brook for photos, and all our tireless supporters and volunteers.

View more pictures from The Dinner Party Project below:


Guest Post: Julia Vita Boland Jordan, Founder of Spoons Across America

We are so very honored to have  Spoons Founder, Julia Jordan, share her memories of food, eating from the land, and family with our community. As you read, you’ll see that Julia learned about healthy eating (in its largest definition) from her family. Where did YOU first learn about eating healthy and living a healthy lifestyle? Take this very quick poll, and the Kashi REAL Project will donate $1 to Spoons Across America. Join us as we raise $35,000 to support our nutrition and food education programs for children.

1950’s Food Memories at the Bolands and the Founding of Spoons Across America

Mulberries, Tomatoes, Mushrooms, Olives and Romano Cheese … Lettuce, Cabbage, Spinach and herbs from our kitchen window garden … basil, parsley, and garlic too!


Students cut vegetables as part of The Dinner Party Project.

I grew up in a family in which we didn’t know the terms seasonal or healthy eating … what other kind was there!   Truth be told, out-of-season meant we went to the fruit cellar in the basement and brought up the clove-speared pickled peaches to dress the ham. Or the Concord grape jelly, made during the 2 weeks in which grapes were picked and sorted, boiled and hung in layers of cheesecloth … dripping juice into a big pot over night … waking up the next day to complete the task … sugar and pectin to the mix …  and boiling jars and lids and …. filling ….. and waiting overnight to make sure the lids popped … so the seal was secure …  and then waiting again ..  the longest time …. Then, in mid-winter, peanut butter and Concord grape jelly sandwiches for school lunch.

Winters of quart jars of thin-skinned tomatoes w/salt and basil … a pre requisite number would get us through the winter months of weekly family meals:  Thursdays– spaghetti and meatballs, Fridays—meatless pizza with mushrooms ….  And on family festive occasions manicotti or lasagna … hand rolled paper-thin noodles… That was the norm.

Summer meant picking sour cherries from the neighbor’s tree and making scrumptious pies, out maneuvering squirrels to get the best of the ripe peaches and Bartlett pears.  Annual Father’s Day celebrations at Grandpa’s … a mulberry feasting frenzy … invariably another white dress was permanently purple stained … a mark of deliciously fragrant and sweet eating.


Promoting family dinners is one of the goals of Spoons Across America

Fall meant living in a pungent, pickling spice environment for 4 days in September every growing-up year … mandoline at the ready … Mom slicing the cucumbers just so for the tastiest bread and butter pickles on the planet …  just the right amount of onions mixed in with that vinegar and ….  the bean relish, sometimes more yellow and orange, sometimes more green and red …  depending on which farmer had the best beans and carrots and bell peppers on the day we went to the farmers market down in the Flats near Distribution Terminal in Cleveland, Ohio.

This is why Spoons Across America was established … a group of folks who were as passionate as me about food and how it weaves its way from farm to table (our official 501 C3 name), got together at a moment when no one understood that children and families and teachers had lost their connection to the land and its bounty, to its rhythms and cycles and no one seemed to care about the consequences ….  Luckily today there are many organizations working tirelessly to get us reconnected and Spoons is one that serves to influence and create the joy, magic, and power of a food-centered life. One in which food memories are filled with love and compassion and awe and interdependence  … where we teach children to be stewards of the land and its limited resources.

With fond memories,

Julia Vita Boland Jordan

Spoons founder, Julia Jordan with Advisory Board member, Marion Nestle

Spoons founder, Julia Jordan with Advisory Board member, Marion Nestle

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