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Can children really love their fruits and veggies?

Zoe Yamaguchi, a fifth-grader at Lewis and Clark Montessori Public Charter School in Damascus, likes her school’s food.

“We can choose what we want on our salads, and choose what we want on our rolls,” she says.

Her identical twin, Hana, is also a fan of the breakfasts, lunches and snacks her school serves.

“I like the bagel and cream cheese and grapes,” she says.

Salads? Grapes? What’s going on here? Most children crave pizza and hot dogs for lunch, right?by: OUTLOOK PHOTO: JIM CLARK - Leslie Shalduha, food services director, far right, helps students pick out healthy lunch options at Lewis and Clark Montessori School. From left are Hayden Rickelfs, Wyatt Stiner and Serenity Goldstein.

Not at Lewis and Clark, where a cursory glance at the school’s menu reveals an emphasis on fruits and vegetables as main courses, not side dishes. No hamburgers or hot dogs on this menu, but plenty of salads and fruits, all bought from Chariteas, a Sandy tea shop that also sells food.

Leslie Shalduha, food services director at Lewis and Clark, says the school wants children to see fruits and vegetables as key to a good diet.

“We want to make them the star of the show, not off to the side,” she says.

Yummy, healthy

Each day’s lunches are offered a la carte, and each child can build his or her plate to suit personal tastes. Each meal is served with organic milk, and all food is freshly prepared daily by Chariteas.

Shalduha estimates that about 80 percent of the food is organic, and Chariteas also provides breakfast and after-school snack foods, she says.

“We serve about 110 breakfasts each day, and 25 after-school snacks, and average about 75 lunches a day,” Shalduha says, adding a minimum of seven parents volunteer weekly to keep the program running.

Leah Yamaguchi, mother of Zoe and Hana, says she and her husband, Masa, have encouraged their daughters, as well as their son, Owen, a second-grader, to grow their own food at home and make dishes of homegrown fruits and vegetables.

“They hate regular kids’ menus everywhere because it’s all corn dogs and macaroni and cheese,” she says.

“They’ve never really eaten off the kids’ menus.”

Lewis and Clark seems a good fit for the Yamaguchis because the “food is one of the main reasons” they send their children there, Leah says. Indeed, the charter school encourages its students to learn about where their food originates, through a gardening program, and Shalduha echoes Yamaguchi almost word for word when it comes to culinary philosophy.

“We have a strong interest in providing local and organic food as much as possible,” Shalduha says, adding the school contracted with Chariteas two years ago to cater its meals.

“Working together, the school and Chariteas are able to provide a food services program that most schools can only dream of: affordable, locally grown, organic healthful choices in which students love what they eat and don’t crave processed, fatty, foods that do little to nourish them,” the school stated in an official document.

Anywhere from 75 to 100 children per day participate in the food program, Shalduha adds.

“It’s not like we have to talk them into it,” Shalduha says. “They’re piling their plates full with fresh vegetables and fruits. I guess kids can eat fresh fruits and vegetables and be happy about it.”

Munch lunch

Late morning Tuesday, Nov. 12, Montessori children happily line up for a “Flavor of Asia” lunch featuring chop salad with sesame dressing, shredded chicken, sweet rolls, fruit and milk.

Parent volunteer Varittha Franko checks off students’ names on a laptop, and Shalduha keeps an eye on their plates.

“There has to be at least three things on your plate,” she says to the children.

Emma Martinson, a smiling third grader, has placed a banana, salad, shredded chicken and jicama on her plate.

“It tastes really sweet,” Martinson says of the jicama, which she shows to her mother, Marcella Martinson, an office assistant at Lewis and Clark.

Yeah, but wouldn’t you rather be having pizza, Emma?

“I like both,” she says.

Maureen Childs, the school’s development director, says the children have come to really love the emphasis on fruits and vegetables at Montessori.

“They still like cookies and things, but ... I think what it does is make them view organic tasty foods as a normal part of life.”

Chariteas may cater to a few more schools if any are interested, notes Crystal Bacon, the shop’s wholesale manager.

“I think we could manage it,” she says.

And although she’s not getting rich off making school meals — the profit margins are tight — the program is a steady source of income in an unsteady economy, says Charity Chalmers, the teashop’s owner. Not to mention the business and the school both espouse similar views on what life is all about.

“I think when you support the local community, you support the people who are next to you and keep the dollars within the community,” she says. “And it makes everybody feel better.”

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