Thursday, September 2, 2010

Lasagna: It Really Was Homemade!

By Ed Bruske
aka The Slow Cook

Recently I inferred that the spinach lasagna in this photo, taken on the second day of school at my daughter's elementary school here in the District of Columbia, was frozen and not "homemade," as Chartwells had indicated on its published menu.

I was wrong. When I walked into the cafeteria yesterday to photograph the food, the kitchen manager gently corrected me. "I made that lasagna," she said proudly.

Well blow me down.

She couldn't tell me whether each and every D.C. school that Chartwells now serves (I believe that would be 108) made its own lasagna that day. But more importantly, the lasagna was not some processed import, frozen and re-heated like most meals from Chartwells in the past. It was made by layering lasagna noodles with tomato sauce, frozen spinach and grated cheese.

As I've been gathering the last two weeks, there's been a real revolution underway in D.C. Public Schools food service. According to Food Services Director Jeffrey Mills, who spent a good part of his summer testing hundreds of alternate menu items, the Chartwells menu has been completely changed. The kitchen crews got extra training over the summer, and now we're seeing lots more freshly prepared foods on kids' cafeteria trays.

In fact, we've been making a big deal about D.C. Central Kitchen's involvement in a pilot program this year, cooking meals from scratch for seven D.C. schools. But here we have the DCPS kitchen staff showing that they can cook from scratch, too.

Congratulations, D.C. kitchen ladies! What's next on the agenda? Homemade soup maybe?


  1. I've been really impressed with the changes this year. It's not perfect (yet), but it's a huge change from last year. Our school staff is preparing a lot of the foods from scratch, and there are more fresh fruit and vegetables available than I've seen before. What a nice thing to see in our schools!

  2. Got to be honest -- that lasagna looks absolutely disgusting. I'd be SHOCKED if any child actually ate it.

    I'm surprised that you are okay with the ingredients for the lasagna, too. I thought you'd be miffed that it is frozen spinach and not fresh spinach from local farmers. And canned tomato sauce -- why can't they being making sauce from fresh tomatoes? And why are the lasagna noddles regular white pasta and not whole wheat?

    And while it might be romaine lettuce, could they have drowned it anymore in ranch dressing? What about the kids havign the opportunity to savor vegetable flavors and textures without a gallon of dressing on it?

    DC is going to save SO MUCH money on food costs because they'll be make a lot fewer lunches since the kids will be refusing to buy hot lunch any more.

  3. To the last anonymous, might I suggest that you try to coordinate training and stocking kitchens with the equipment and deliveries of fresh produce that it takes to prepare everything from scratch.

    Maybe you could spend a little less time complaining about the vast improvements being made and work instead on trying to make your suggestions a reality. It's not as easy as you think.