Inspiration from a Lifelong Vegetarian
– Writing and Photos

Mira Mesa Students (Photo Credit - San Diego Union Tribune)

Mira Mesa Students (Photo by San Diego Union Tribune)

Time stated in “Brief History: School Lunches” that 80% of U.S. schools serve lunches with more saturated fat than recommended, and 42%  offer no daily fresh fruits or vegetables. Progress is being made, however. This year the government allocated $40 million for the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program for elementary schools, and on the local level as well, people are dedicated to creating healthier school lunches.

Mira Mesa High’s Food Nutrition and Culinary Arts programs in San Diego, led by Chef Zhee Zhee Aguirre, was successfully funded through for their “Garden to the Plate: The Teens Guide to Eating Your Vegetables”  project. The exciting project explores multi-cultural recipes, how to start an organic herb and vegetable garden with a small plot outside the classroom, sustainable and organic agriculture practices and a photo gallery of student work. The class received new cutting boards, fruit and vegetables posters, a vegetarian cooking DVD and a seed-growing window with a culinary herb garden starter kit.

Half the meals prepared in Aguirre’s program are vegetarian.  When the students started this year, many claimed that they hated tomatoes, or garlic and onions, said Aguirre.

“I taught them how to caramelize onions and use simple techniques for preparing vegetables (like roasting asparagus with olive oil and fresh thyme).  They were running to eat every last spear of asparagus . . .Even with all of the wonderful information on cooking out there, people are still trying to serve their kids boiled vegetables.  No wonder they hated vegetables!” said Aguirre.

She will also teach a unit on salads, and a Latin American cuisine course, which includes vegetarian alternatives like homemade tofu chorizo enchiladas, or green chili seitan empanadas. With passionate teachers knowledgeable about veggie food, new funding options, and a wealth of nutritional information and recipes easily accessible via the Internet, as well as multiple vegetarian cookbooks, the future looks brighter for school lunches.