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


DCCK Opens New Baking Corner to Provide Healthy, Whole Grain Snacks and Baked Goods to 35 Afterschool Programs

, August 14th, 2014

Baking CornerOn August 7th we celebrated the official opening of DC Central Kitchen’s new Baking Corner! Thanks to key investments from our friends and partners, and a generous matching grant from the Morris and Gwendolyn Cafritz Foundation, DCCK is able to bring our healthy baking program to fruition.

Back in April we announced DC Central Kitchen Production Manager William Ferrell’s concept for an innovative baking program at DCCK, for which he hoped to create healthy, whole grain snacks and breads for the afterschool programs we serve. William, who came to DC Central Kitchen in 2010 after being released from prison, was a student in our Culinary Job Training program and now serves on staff as a supervisor in the Kitchen. With a long held passion for baking, and a personal interest area for culinary growth, William realized he could make our snacks for afterschool programs more nutritious and less costly by doing more baking on-site and relying less on packaged, processed foods.

William creatively uses ingredients such as natural sweeteners and avocados to make traditional favorites, like banana bread and cheesecake, much healthier. For the Baking Corner opening, William shared samples of some of his original baked goods recipes, including pumpkin bread with lower sugar content, and whole wheat biscuits. Our guests indulged in his healthy treats while exploring some of the new  equipment purchased for the Baking Corner. Among several items that now make up this new space, William and his team have access to multiple stand mixers and special attachments, a proofing box to help bread rise, a wood work table for rolling dough, and lots of new baking pans.

We can only achieve our mission to use food as a tool to strengthen bodies, empower minds, and build communities with the help of our many partners. Because of this support, William, his team, and the more than 15,000 volunteers that work in the Kitchen each year are now able to put his ideas into action by working in this space to create new, innovative snacks and healthy meal concepts for our partners. We’re excited to leverage the talent and passion of our culinary staff and dedicated volunteers to ensure that the afterschool programs for low-income children that rely on our meals receive healthy and nutritious snacks that fuel their minds and future success!

Join us at the Kitchen to check out this awesome new baking space and help put William’s brainchild into action.



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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