Connecticut Schools Celebrate US VegWeek with Meat-Free Meals

Written by Jaya Bhumitra

ChefTim

Chef Timothy Cipriano, Director of Food Services of Guilford Public Schools (GPS) in Guilford, Connecticut, touts an unusual and commendable specialty on his LinkedIn profile: “Working with kids to get them to appreciate good wholesome real food.” And that’s exactly why he was recruited by Guilford’s Superintendent of Schools, Dr. Paul Freeman, to ramp up the nutritional integrity of the GPS lunch program.

With more than 20 years of culinary experience—including his previous position as Executive Director of Food Services for New Haven Public Schools—and a focus on educating children about “proper nutrition and choosing REAL foods,” it’s no wonder that in March 2010 he was handpicked by the White House to coordinate a program for chefs to adopt schools (part of the First Lady’s Let’s Move Campaign). He was also one of two school nutrition chefs invited by President Obama to attend the Childhood Obesity Summit at the White House that April.

And now Chef Tim is bringing his expertise and passion to GPS, which will be celebrating US VegWeek (April 22-28) by offering 100% meat-free menus in all four elementary schools, and turning the daily entree served in its middle and high schools into a delicious meat-free meal. In all, GPS serves over 3,100 students in seven schools.

“One of our efforts is to increase the number of plant-based entrees … We plan to offer meat-free entrees that week in an effort to celebrate US VegWeek and Earth Day,” said Chef Tim. “In addition, we’ve printed information about the campaign right on the menu itself. This week is an important week for us.”

Read on to learn more about this change-maker and his exciting plans.

Q: What is your background with food service? Why is “nutrition integrity” important to you and Superintendent Freeman?

A: I worked in restaurants as a Chef and General Manager for many years. I transitioned to School Nutrition to be able to have a schedule more fitting for a dad with young kids.

In addition to my work in School Nutrition I am also a No Kid Hungry Chef, dedicating and volunteering a large portion of my time to end childhood hunger. Nutrition integrity with school nutrition is of vital importance to me. Childhood obesity and childhood hunger go hand in hand. Did you know that by the end of the year, nearly 17 million children in America will worry about when their next meal will come? That’s nearly one in four who are at risk of hunger, and who have limited or uncertain access to the nutritious foods they need to develop to their full potential. Despite its devastating and highly visible consequences, childhood hunger is invisible. You can’t see it just by looking, and you can’t measure it in pounds, but it is among us: It affects black, white, Asian and Hispanic, short and tall, thin and chubby. Childhood hunger does not know borders and has an effect on kids in each and every town in our country. These are the children in our schools who rely on school meals for their ONLY nutrition of the day; this is why nutrition integrity is so important to us.

While we’re in the first phase of implementing our nutrition integrity plan, we’ve already added a school breakfast program to four schools. I’ve joined a high school construction committee to redesign a new school kitchen, and work collaboratively with the Health Advisory Group and Guilford High School Student Council to promote healthy food choices to the students.

Q: How will the Guilford Public Schools be participating in US VegWeek?

A: GPS is choosing to participate by serving meatless meals during US VegWeek. Allison Beckert, a café manager at Calvin Leete Elementary School and a vegan, recommended that we celebrate US VegWeek and Earth Day by going meat-free for the week (in the elementary schools).

Q: How do parents and the students respond to vegetarian options in the cafeterias?

A: We are taking baby steps with our vegetarian offerings. Parents are very supportive of these changes.

Q: What are some of the most plant-based successful dishes you offer?

A: We are incorporating hummus, vegetarian chili, and falafel into our menus and next year we have applied for salad bars through Let’s Move Salad bars to Schools for our Elementary Schools. We are working with community organizations to bring more local foods to the table and grow more school gardens.

Q: What advice do you have for other food service directors in schools across the country about improving student nutrition—what lessons have you learned and what is the best way to go about incorporating healthier, more sustainable, and more humane foods into children’s diets?

A: My #1 piece of advice to increasing the nutritional quality of school meals is to have a salad bar in every school. Let’s Move Salad bars to Schools and its partners are working hard to get a salad bar in every school.

Inspired by Chef Tim and want to celebrate US VegWeek in your hometown? Find out how to host an event in your community!

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