The Food Column: Educators meet for healthy-foods summit

Local experts will gather at a symposium next week to discuss ways to "bag the junk" from school food service, get kids exercising, and teach kids to grow and cook healthy food.

"Let's Move Pittsburgh: Making the Healthy Choice the Easy Choice" will offer tips and information for parents, fitness instructors, health-care workers and other professionals. But Hannah Hardy, Let's Move Pittsburgh's director of programming and operations, said her main target audience is educators because she wants Let's Move Pittsburgh to increase involvement in local schools in 2014.

A number of local educators will speak at the symposium as part of roundtable "challenge panels." One of the "Bag the Junk" panelists is Tazeen Chowdhury, Mt. Lebanon School District food service director since 2000, who has overseen the revamping of the school's lunch program.

Mt. Lebanon offers unlimited fruits and vegetables for students at the elementary and middle school levels. Each month, one of the veggies is featured through a local-foods farm-to-school program that highlights a "Farm of the Month" and a "Produce of the Month." (October's was zucchini from Wexford Farms.) So zucchini was featured in some form every day last month, but students also could choose from a daily assortment of handheld fruits and veggies like apples, bananas, oranges or carrot sticks, as well as salads like spinach, chickpea and pasta salads.

The high school is currently undergoing a renovation, after which Ms. Chowdhury hopes to be able to implement more innovative food changes there, too.

A key component to Mt. Lebanon's success, Ms. Chowdhury said, is education: She and her staff are in the classrooms, especially at the elementary level when students' eating habits are still being established. They discuss healthy eating and tell the students about some of the things they'll find in the cafeteria.

And she's noticing a difference. Students who initially didn't know what kiwi was will now eat it in the cafeteria.

Much press has been devoted to students hating school food under the new federal guidelines, but Ms. Chowdhury hopes the symposium will offer her the opportunity to share her success with other educators.

"It might take some time, but the more you positively promote your program," the better it will be received, she said. She added that schools might see an initial drop-off in the number of students eating school lunch, but if food service personnel can weather the storm and get into the classrooms for some interaction, "eventually, they (the students) will come around."

In addition to the "Bag the Junk" panel in which Ms. Chowdhury will participate, other panel discussions will include "Getting Kids Moving" (featuring professionals from local exercise organizations) and "Teaching Kids to Grow and Cook Food" (featuring personnel from the Environmental Charter School, Phipps and Slow Food Pittsburgh).

Yael Lehmann, executive director of The Food Trust in Philadelphia, will be the keynote speaker. Ms. Hardy said she chose Ms. Lehmann because The Food Trust has been involved in a number of Philadelphia initiatives that have led to a nearly 5 percent drop in rates of obesity among Philadelphia schoolchildren from 2006 to 2010, and she hopes Pittsburgh can replicate some of Philadelphia's successes.

At a poster session and networking reception following the symposium, guests will be able to see posters from organizations like Grow Pittsburgh (which has a school garden program), Dick's Sporting Goods, Colfax Elementary School (which has a "100-Mile Club"), Children's and Magee-Womens Hospitals, and more.

"I hope to get input from the community on how we can get kids to be more active and teach them to grow and cook food," Ms. Hardy said. "I hope to have a game plan coming out of this."

The symposium will be held from 1 to 5 p.m. next Thursday, Nov. 7, at Phipps in Oakland. Admission is free, but space is limited and registration is required. To register, call 412-622-6915 ext. 6053.


Preservation Celebration & Pickle Contest: Swap your homemade canned goods with other canners, enter two jars of your homemade pickles in Slow Food Pittsburgh's pickle contest, sample the contest pickles with a charcuterie assortment from Crested Duck, peruse canning-related items for sale and watch demos. 11 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Sunday at Pittsburgh Public Market in the Strip District. $5 per person. Reservations:


King Arthur Flour Traveling Baking Demo: Holiday baking tips, free recipes and door prizes. 11 a.m. or 3 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 3, at Pittsburgh Marriott North, Cranberry. Each demo session last two hours. 11 a.m. demo topic is "Perfect Pies & Savory Scones"; 3 p.m. topic is "Baking With Yeast & Whole Grains." Free admission.

Mexican Cooking 101: David Bulman of Verde Mexican Kitchen teaches the basics. 1 to 4 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 3, at Giant Eagle Market District in Robinson. $50. Reservations:

Bitters: Sample bitters and learn to make your own; organized by Slow Food Pittsburgh. 7 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 6, at Wigle Whiskey in the Strip District. $34 per person includes cocktail samples, charcuterie, cheese and chocolates. For an invitation, e-mail


Dia de Los Muertos Community Festival: Crafts, puppet theater, food and more. 2 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 2, at the Kaufmann Center at Hill House, Hill District.

LACU (Latin American Cultural Union) Gala: Cocktails, dinner with a Latin menu, and entertainment from Brazil, Spain, Cuba and Argentina. 6 p.m. Nov. 9 at the Omni William Penn, Downtown.

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Super Puffy Blueberry-Oatmeal Pancakes

This oil-free, gluten-free, sugar-free pancake recipe will be distributed at the Let’s Move Pittsburgh symposium.

— Rebecca Sodergren

2 cups blueberries

1⅓ cup buckwheat (for gluten-free), spelt or whole-wheat pastry flour

1⁄2 cup old-fashioned rolled oats

1 teaspoon cinnamon

2 teaspoon baking powder

1⁄4 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1⁄4 cup very ripe banana, mashed

1⅓ cup almond, soy or other low-fat milk

Combine berries and all dry ingredients in a bowl and mix well to combine. In a separate bowl, combine wet ingredients and then add to dry mixture without over-mixing.

Drop small dollops of batter onto a lightly oiled or nonstick skillet over medium-low heat and cook just until the tops start to firm up and bubble, then flip over and cook the other side for another minute or so. Once done, remove pancakes from skillet and serve with a drizzle of maple syrup, sliced bananas, more blueberries or other favorite fruits.

Serves 4.

— Let’s Move Pittsburgh

First Published October 31, 2013 12:00 AM


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