Combating Hunger, Creating Opportunity

DC Central Kitchen is America's leader in reducing hunger with recycled food, training unemployed adults for culinary careers, serving healthy school meals, and rebuilding urban food systems through social enterprise.
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Updates for School Food

Home Cooking vs. Hunger Week: Let’s Talk Live Videos

, June 20th, 2014

Check out our staff on Let’s Talk Live this week, featuring our efforts to fight hunger and promote healthy eating. We’re excited to be part of this Home Cooking vs. Hunger Week. A huge thanks to Walmart and NewsChannel 8 for promoting our work.

DC Central Kitchen Featured on “Inside School Food”

, June 2nd, 2014
Inside School Food

DCCK’s Ed Kwitowski and Katie Nash represented the School Food Program on “Inside School Food”

DC Central Kitchen’s Healthy School Food Program was recently featured on radio show, Inside School Food, representing our work to transform childhood nutrition at DC schools and what it means for the broader community. We’re excited about this opportunity to talk in-depth about the program.

Here’s a description from the Heritage Radio Network’s Website:

This week’s episode of Inside School Food is the first installment of a series of episodes we’re calling “And Now for Something Completely Different,” in which we profile programs and business models that upend common assumptions about what’s possible in school food. In the schools served by not-for-profit DC Central Kitchen, children formerly accustomed to pizza and breaded chicken fingers eagerly chow down on house-made fresh food that routinely includes beets, cauliflower, and collards. The skilled staff who prepare it are people who have emerged from stressful life circumstances with the help of DCCK culinary job training. For DCCK, good school food is not an end in itself, but a cornerstone to a larger, community agenda.”

Click here to visit the page and listen to the program.

Strawberries & Salad Greens: Getting Kids Excited About Nutrition

, May 23rd, 2014

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Through our Healthy School Food Program, DC Central Kitchen has moved beyond simply feeding kids to equipping them with the crucial lessons they need to live healthier futures. Our priority is making these lessons engaging and fun so the students take that knowledge home. This is why our presence at the schools is so important beyond the meals we serve.

This Wednesday, our team was at Thomas Elementary for the annual Strawberries & Salad Greens event. DCCK’s Katie Nash, School Food Program Manager and Registered Dietitian, says that the event was a great opportunity to feature the local produce we procure daily while teaching kids about the food system.

It’s one of my favorite events of the year because it celebrates food in a delicious and fun way and students consider the strawberries an extra treat.  I have also never seen so much excitement over salad greens before!
- Katie Nash, RD

The lunchtime event included a taste testing of DCCK’s Summery Strawberry Salad, which was quite popular. “I have one word, three syllables for that salad: DE-LIC-IOUS,” said one female student. We received quite a few thumbs up and requests for more samples at the event.

After lunch, the students were lead outside where they were engaged in growing lessons via DCCK’s Truck Farm, a traveling, edible exhibit that allows D.C.’s urban youth to “dig in” to where their food comes from. The students also planted their own lettuce seeds to take home and asked many questions about gardening in their own backyards.

By providing kids with the opportunity to taste new healthy foods and engage with the mobile Truck Farm exhibit, we’re making amazing breakthroughs and generating excitement about fruits and vegetables.

We would like to thank all of the DCCK staff who came out to support this outstanding event through the lessons and meal preparation: Katie Nash, Ed Kwitowski, Shay McCray, Janell Walker, Huan Song, Senita Harrison, Laquita Simms, Renita Harrison, and Maya Munoz.

Stepping Up to the Plate with School Food

, May 21st, 2014
Kid tastes spinach for Fresh Feature Friday

Students at Nalle Elementary School tried spinach prepared three ways during Fresh Feature Friday. Taste testing has become an integral part of DC Central Kitchen’s Healthy School Food program.

This week, America’s fight over school food took another disappointing turn. The overdue effort to make school food healthy, local, and dignified is meeting resistance. In short, because providers are only paid when students eat the meals they serve—not just when they serve them—pushback from kids about healthier menus is cutting into provider revenues. Some fear that the business of school food is about to become less lucrative, thanks to recent improvements in national nutrition standards.

If that’s true, then these providers need to rethink how they do their business. The old way of doing school food, which included sourcing the cheapest possible products and sometimes indulging the lowest common denominator of kids’ diets, is outdated. Instead of lobbying for the way things were, it’s time for school food providers to adapt, innovate, and find new economies of scale. You can’t make ‘disrupt’ your favorite corporate buzzword and then complain when your generations-old business model gets disrupted.

But here at DC Central Kitchen, we’re generous, so we’re happy to offer our fellow school food providers some helpful tips. First, if kids aren’t eating your food, maybe the problem is less about regulations than your own recipes. In 2010, when we started serving healthy meals in DC Public Schools, our participation rates plummeted. But then we started capturing student feedback through taste tests and getting them excited about healthy eating through hands-on demonstrations. And that’s how we doubled student consumption of sweet potatoes and broccoli within a month of seeing our recipes rejected.

DCCK is fortunate that our great partners at DCPS and in the DC government provide an additional subsidy above the USDA reimbursement rate to ensure that we can use healthy, local ingredients in our scratch-cooked meals (and pay our employees a living wage and full benefits). Every locality should look at what DC is doing in this arena and learn from it, because while school food is a business, it’s also so much more than that. It is a public good and a vital means of investing in children’s long-term productivity. While companies should earn reasonable returns over time, their operations must be measured by more than quarterly earnings. But we know raising taxes would be even less popular than raising basic nutrition standards.

So, while we’re rethinking recipes, let’s revamp some business plans, too. School food could be revolutionized through social impact bonds focused on improving childhood health and academic outcomes, because the core revenue stream is already supported by federal and many local funds. Philanthropists could go beyond installing salad bars and begin making serious infrastructure investments in mission-driven community kitchens that would allow them to compete for larger foodservice contracts. And local governments could get serious about creating super-kitchens, consolidating meal production for schools, senior citizens, and homeless shelters in purposeful ways that are paired with job training services (credit to Robert Egger).

It’s time to stop delaying and playing partisan games. An outdated business model has been disrupted. Let’s embrace that disruption with creativity and innovation.

How We’re Empowering Families to Live Healthier Lives

, May 20th, 2014

Cooking lessons are just another example of how DC Central Kitchen is shattering stereotypes about health and nutrition in low income communities. Everyday, we’re hearing amazing feedback from parents and children who are tasting our healthy recipes for the first time. By bringing together families in the classroom, we’re breaking the intergenerational cycle of poor health and empowering families to live healthier lives.

This month, DCCK’s Chef Ed Kwitowski  (Director of School Food Service), Janell Walker (Director of Nutrition & Community Outreach), Katie Nash (Program Manager), and Senita Harrison (Lead Food Service Worker) are leading cooking lessons for families at Thomas Elementary School, one of the 10 schools where we serve healthy scratch-cooked meals. While we’ve been teaching healthy eating strategies for years, our staff recently began using the proven Cooking Matters curriculum to help parents at Thomas Elementary make healthier choices for themselves and their children.

The courses also cover topics on snacking, eating out, reading food labels, and stressing the importance of eating together as a family. Janell says that one of the biggest challenges is getting the families to try new foods.

I have one rule for the class and it is that everyone must take a least one bite of everything. We have already witnessed one of the parents who wasn’t too fond of mushrooms really enjoy them in our Whole Wheat Pasta and Roasted Veggie Salad.
- Janell Walker, DCCK’s Director of Nutrition & Community Outreach

Ed and Janell are already witnessing amazing transformations in their class. “I love coming to cooking class,” said one 7 year old boy, who like many of the children in the class enjoyed taste testing the recipes.  The mother of an 11 year old was delighted by the lessons, “I can’t wait to try some of these techniques when I get home.” For many of the participants, this is the first time they’ve been exposed to scratch-cooking techniques using wholesome ingredients. Chef Ed says the children are very engaging and that the parents are genuinely interested in the lessons.

I have one father that walked in and registered 5 kids! I have a tremendous admiration for all of the parents and children that take time out of their busy schedules to attend the classes.
- Chef Ed Kwitowski

Many people know us for all the healthy food we prepare, but we know that lasting change can only happen when if people are empowered to prepare healthy food themselves.

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Food Day: 8 Ways We Use Food To Change Lives

, October 24th, 2013

Today is Food Day, a nationwide celebration and a movement for healthy, affordable, and sustainable food. Here are 8 ways we’re using the power of food to change lives.

Combating Food Waste
Every day, DC Central Kitchen transforms 3,000 pounds of food into 5,000 meals that are distributed to local nonprofits serving at-risk populations and low income men and women. Last year, this saved the community over $3.6 million by transforming those leftovers into 2 million balanced meals.

Changing Lives through Culinary Job Training
Here at DC Central Kitchen, we believe that food not only nourishes bodies, but also minds, by creating opportunities to break the cycle of poverty. Through our 14 week Culinary Job Training Program, we’re shortening the line of the city’s hungry people and creating jobs for unemployed men and women in the food and hospitality industry.

Breaking through Nutritional Barriers with Healthy School Food
We’re serving 4,800 healthy, scratch-cooked breakfasts, lunches, and suppers every day at 9 DC schools. At the schools, we’re not just serving food but also changing eating habits and educating kids about nutrition. We’re teaching kids about how to eat healthier and how they can bring those healthy habits home.

Defeating Food Deserts with Healthy Corner Stores
Through our partnership with 32 DC corner stores, we’ve developed a new model to provide affordable fresh produce and healthy snacks for communities lacking sufficient access to nutritious food. Healthy Corners is the only program of its kind nationwide.

Resisting a Recession and Federal Shutdown
While Congress was squabbling over the budget and shutting down government services, DC Central Kitchen served over 80,000 meals to 88 local nonprofits and 60,000 meals to 9 DC Schools. Our meals saved those local nonprofits over $156,000, which they reinvested into unique programs serving their clients. DC Central Kitchen also creates jobs for its culinary graduates, and has hired over 60 men and women to produce our healthy and scratch-cooked meals.

Investing in Local Farms
Last year, we invested $156,523 in local farms by buying their produce and meat products, giving those farmers a crucial role in our work to combat hunger and poor health in DC by providing their healthy produce for our scratch-cooked meals.

Providing Street Outreach with First Helping
Every morning, DC Central Kitchen’s First Helping Outreach Team serves hot breakfasts at 3 sites around the city while connecting over 100 chronically homeless men and women to crucial services including drug rehabilitation, job placement, skills training, and transitional housing.

Partnering with the Restaurant Industry
DC Central Kitchen partners with hundreds of restaurants each year. Our city’s restaurants and chefs host our Culinary Job Training students as interns in their kitchens and teach special lessons. They also team up with us for great fundraising events, like the upcoming Capital Food Fight which will bring over 75 of our restaurant partners together to support DC Central Kitchen.