09/13/2010 11:29 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Project Lunch: A Bold New Initiative to Serve Healthier School Lunches


This month, Teens Turning Green, a student-led advocacy group in Northern California, launches PROJECT LUNCH, a bold new initiative aimed at eliminating 'breaded, fried, frozen & reheated so-called meat' from school lunches. Say what? But our children will starve! They don't know what 'real' food that's grown in soil looks like. Seeing heads of cabbage and cauliflower slowly rising up from the ground is like watching Night of the Living Dead to them. Somebody, think of the children, please!

I gave Miguel Villarreal, director of Food and Nutritional Services for Novato Unified School District, a ring-a-ding-ding to ask why he was working closely with this group of plucky teens who are dead set on starving our children? "There have been many efforts in our school district over the last eight years to bring attention to healthy food, nutrition and wellness. Few of those efforts have captured the attention of so many organizations and people in Marin County as the efforts on Project Lunch," said Villarreal. Whole Foods Market in Novato is now partnering with Novato High School to improve the menu options and dining experience at the school. They hope to benefit students through in-school tastings and better recipes and meal options. "We have started the Project Lunch program with Novato High School, "says Villarreal. "Our goal is to develop a system for producing and offering the healthiest meals possible and then implement this concept in all the rest of the schools."

Teens Turning Green has partnered with over 100 stakeholders including food service directors, administrators, students, parents, chefs, food purveyors, farmers, eco-businesses and various community groups to promote healthy school food programs countywide. The first organizing meeting, held in early summer, was attended by over 70 eager, kid-lovin', tree-huggin', influential rabble-rousers representing all aspects of the Bay Area food community - such as Marin Organic, MALT, Agricultural Institute of Marin, Nature's Path, Straus, Applegate and Earthbound Farms, Guayaki, Earthlust and Laptop Lunches, to name a few. "This tremendous support and collaboration from all parts of our community relating to food is unparalleled and thus make the opportunity for change and transition very feasible," says Judi Shils, Executive Director, Teens Turning Green.


Shils says the teens were inspired by Michelle Obama's recent invitation to over 1,000 school chefs to visit the White House, calling on each school with a healthy lunch program in place to mentor another. "Living in Marin County where sustainability is a core value and local farms and produce are plentiful, I believe that every student should have access to wholesome, nutritious, organic, waste free and delicious meals at schools," said Carly Wertheim, a Teen Turning Green campaign member. "Project Lunch provides the opportunity to encourage thought around what we eat, where it comes from, and the impact that healthy food can have on our bodies and the earth."
Wow! A real, live teenager doing something besides blaring an ipod and kvetching?
Somethings not right.
How can we clone her?
Get my people on it, asap!

Project Lunch kicks off during the week of September 20-24th, 2010 when schools throughout Marin County will be encouraged to participate by connecting with their farmers, food purveyors and green grocers to begin the discussion around sustainable food programs. A schedule of programs and events for each day of that week will be available at the Project Lunch website. Schools can choose just one of these activities or create their own idea based on educating and enlightening other students, parents and community members in eating food that is grown locally and in a sustainable way.

Monday, September 20th is National Gleaning Day, when students across the country travel after school to local farms to harvest extra food to use in their school lunch programs. Locally, Marin Organic, a nonprofit who donates fresh, organic, gleaned food weekly to local schools and community centers, will host this day.

On Tuesday, September 21, The Food Club will launch. These clubs will consist of groups of students, food service staff and other members of the community working to educate and advocate for healthy, sustainable food choices.

Wednesday, September, 22 nd is Project Lunch Prep Day when students will have a hands-on opportunity to learn about local farms and ranches.

Thursday, September 23rd is Farmer's Market Day where students can speak to farmers at local markets and select final ingredients for Friday's lunch celebration.

Friday, September 23rd is the School Lunch Celebration where each food club will be asked to prepare a menu and host a locally sourced, wholesome, organic lunch using gleaned and farmer's Market fresh ingredients.


In October, a screening of Dirt, the movie, along with a discussion with its producer Gene Rosow, is scheduled. November will highlight Chef Bobo who has revolutionized the Calhoun School in NYC making it one of the foremost green school lunch programs in the country. There will also be panel dialogues and workshops with esteemed eco-food leaders; potential panelists include Ann Cooper, Anna Getty, Helge Hellberg and Maria Rodale. "Project Lunch is helping people dream of the possibilities for a healthier school environment," says Miguel Villarreal. "And then finding the necessary resources to make those dreams a reality."

There will also be a Project Lunch Toolkit available so these concepts can be replicated at other schools nationally. This resource will feature a how-to including the wisdom from the collective team and will be posted in phases from August through November.To learn more or to get your school and teens involved go to: and /" " target="_hplink">"

To get Annie to turn off her ipod and stop kvetching, visit