A school kitchen fit for grandchildren

By Barbara Horwedel, June 2020

Cooking today so that no one starves tomorrow.

The production and processing of food gives rise to about a third of all greenhouse gas emissions. A third of this food is wasted. Every German on average throws 55 kilograms into the bin each year.

Against this background it was clear to us as the kitchen team at the Freiburg-St. Georgen Waldorf School that we had to do more in matters of sustainability. It has always been an important subject in our school kitchen and for some years we have exclusively used organically produced food in our cooking. But is that enough? No, we were convinced, more can be done! Looking in greater detail, we came up with various possibilities of improvement and that started a gradual change into a school kitchen that was fit for our grandchildren.

Less meat – more pulses

Our first significant change was to reduce the number of meat dishes. Whereas previously there was meat two to three times a week, we now offer a meat dish every fourteen days. In addition, there is now a vegan option alongside the vegetarian dish each day which is chosen by about ten pupils. The number of meals has not fallen as a result of the change. If both options are offered, about half the pupils choose the vegetarian alternative. While the Greens have campaigned in vain for veggie days (vegetarian meals one a week in public refectories), our endeavours have met with widespread acceptance among the pupils.

In 2019, 37 authors – including climate researchers and nutritionists – from sixteen nations drew up the so-called Planetary Health Diet. This is a menu to save human beings and the earth. Its basic pillars are vegetables, wholemeal products and pulses. Inspired by these recommendations, we accorded pulses a firm place on our menu. Once or twice a week as a stew or soup (lentil stew, chilli sin carne, minestrone), a side dish (curried lentils, mung bean sprouts), as salad (bean salad, chickpea salad), or simply cooked in a tomato sauce.

Regional und seasonal

We have had firm regional suppliers for a long time so that we were well set up in matters of regionality. As regards seasonality, things did not look quite so good. The entry of Mediterranean cuisine meant that we became used to the inclusion of tomatoes, cucumbers, courgettes and peppers all the year round. Since this winter we have now tried to use only winter vegetables any longer. Our salad buffet consists of parsnip crisps, sprouts we have grown ourselves, winter crudités and leaf salads, roast seeds, and antipasti with roast root vegetables. In our main dishes, too, we avoid greenhouse vegetables with long transport routes. It is a little known fact that eggs, too, are seasonal. Chickens are dependent on light and lay noticeably fewer eggs in winter – if no artificial lighting is used, something that is allowed in organic farming only to a limited extent.

This is still reflected in the baking practices of earlier times. Christmas baking consisted of short pastry which required very few eggs whereas at Easter sponge was traditionally baked which uses a lot of eggs. For this reason we do not use recipes with a lot of eggs in them from November to January, such as pancakes for example.

Non-palm oil school cuisine

The worldwide demand for palm oil is rising dramatically. Huge areas of rainforest are being cut down to meet it. In going through our kitchen, we found a number of foods containing palm oil which we were able to replace with ones that did not. The only thing we cannot do without is our palm oil containing organic margarine which is particularly important for the preparation of vegan dishes. We have replaced cleaning and washing agents with organic ones. Most recently, we have introduced non-palm oil tea lights with no aluminium in the cafeteria.

Avoiding  waste

A lot of packaging waste accrued in our kitchen. That is why we now try to obtain our purchases in the largest batches possible. Basic foodstuffs come in 25-kilogram sacks, noodles, rice and pulses in five-kilogram bags. We reuse these bags for freezing and packaging foods, which means that we can avoid the use of freezer bags, cling film and aluminium foil. We buy milk in returnable bottles, other milk products come in five-kilogram pails which can be reused in many different ways. In the breaks, we sell coffee in cups which include a deposit and drinks in returnable glass bottles. Soap dispensers and washing agents are refilled from canisters.

No food waste

Not wasting any food is something that is close to our heart. Since our pupils do not have to register for meals, it is not simple to calculate the right quantity. Anything that remains at the food counter is quickly cooled in a water bath and handed out the next day as a free second helping. Dry bread is turned into a sweet bread pudding or bread dumplings. Vegetable peelings are cooked into broth and we use second-choice vegetables to prepare our own “all spice”.

A look into our feedback container into which our guests put what remains on their plate gives us a clear picture whether or not our customers liked our food and shows the ladies at the food counter whether the portions were the right size. If only the bottom of the bucket is covered, we know that we have done a good job.

Talking with the pupils

In all our endeavours it is important to keep the pupils informed and included. The central medium for this is a large notice board. There the pupils can find current newspaper articles, graphics, posters and pictures on the subject of sustainable nutrition. A box stands by the notice board into which they can put notes with their suggestions, wishes and opinions. The notes are regularly put up on the notice board with comments from me.

One pupil, for example, complained that there hadn’t been pancakes for a while. I explained the background on the notice board and assured him there would be some again in February. Another pupil suggested that every hundredth eater should get a free meal. A super idea which we were happy to implement. This creates a dialogue which is of benefit for both sides.

I keep putting up guessing games or riddles to direct the attention of the children to certain circumstances. One example:

Question: How many euros does a farmer get if he sells a 14-day-old calf?

Answer: Eight euros! I put up the answer on the notice board together with the corresponding article from the weekly paper Die Zeit (Issue 4/2020). The price caused much indignation among the pupils and led to many discussions.

Or: How many sugar cubes are there in a 400-gram glass of Nutella?

Answer: 84 cubes (251.5 grams = 52.5 percent). It always comes as a surprise that it is so many!

Or: What is more expensive? Silver or real vanilla?

Answer: It is indeed true that just now the price of real vanilla is higher than that of silver due to failed harvests in Madagascar (vanilla approx. 600 euros per kilogram, silver approx. 550 euros per kilogram).

The “Wanted” search game is very popular. A certain spice, a bay leaf for example, is secreted away in the lentil stew. The finder gets a free desert. The pupils also happen to become familiar with various spices and ingredients.

Given the daily workload in a school kitchen, it is no easy matter to find the time to be involved in these areas. Idealism and commitment, also outside working hours, are indispensible. I am fortunate to work in a wonderful team which actively supports my endeavours and gives me a lot of space. And so united we work each day anew for sustainably produced, nutritious and tasty school meals – for us and the coming generations.

About the author: Barbara Horwedel is a preschool teacher and Demeter farmer. She has managed the kitchen at the Freiburg-St. Georgen Waldorf School since 2017.

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