Wholesome Lunches in Charm City

What do the following have in common: a peach straight from the orchard, a fresh tomato salad with basil and mozzarella, raw cauliflower with a ...
by | September 2, 2008

Peach What do the following have in common: a peach straight from the orchard, a fresh tomato salad with basil and mozzarella, raw cauliflower with a dipping sauce, super-sweet corn on the cob shaved into crab soup and a vegetarian loaf with lentils, garlic, and onions?

Well, for one thing, they all sound delicious.

But there's something esle: they're all items that might be showing up on the menus this year in Baltimore's public school cafeterias.

Tony Geraci, the new top chef for Baltimore city schools (profiled in this great online Gourmet piece), hopes to rescue Baltimore's school lunches from their unhealthy past.

Lunchtime for Baltimore's 82,000 students may never be the same. Long a place where the typical diet centered on snack foods, soda, and fried chicken in a box from the corner store, Baltimore is going Berkeley.

"Anything is possible," says Geraci, a 51-year-old New Orleans native who came to Baltimore from New Hampshire, where he gave school lunchroom menus a major makeover and then ran a program to prepare low-income and developmentally disabled adults for careers in the culinary field. Geraci has vowed that within his first year in Charm City he will wipe out most of the frozen lunches that one teacher describes as "breaded bread with bread sauce," and replace them with Maryland-grown farm specialties at least three days a week.

Gone are the days of rubbery chicken nuggets and fries. In their place the chef plans to offer roasted poultry and baked herbed potatoes. Pizza will now be made with whole-grain crust, and each slice will come with a garden salad and fresh fruit.

As the profile suggests, incorporating whole grains and farm-fresh vegetables will likely be more of a challenge in Baltimore than in a locavore-friendly place like Berkeley. But by the same token, healthier fare could make much more of a difference in a place where children are so unaccustomed to real food. (At lunch last week, on the first day of the new school year, two first-graders told Geraci that it was the first time they'd ever tasted a fresh peach.)

And who knows?  If Geraci is as successful as he hopes, maybe one day we'll all be trucking down to the local elementary school to grab lunch.

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