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Posted on Sat, Nov 5, 2011 : 5:55 a.m.

What's for lunch? Students cook up a batch of ratatouille

By Angela Smith

What’s on the menu for school lunches this week? Turkey hot dogs, soft tacos, stuffed bread sticks and chicken nuggets are standard fare for the monthly calendar of food options, but Friday, students in Ann Arbor Public Elementary Schools had another option, student-prepared ratatouille.

Ratatouille is best known among the elementary set as a rather popular 2007 Pixar animated movie about a rat with dreams of becoming a chef. But many students Friday learned that it’s also a rather tasty traditional French dish consisting of zucchini, tomatoes, eggplant, and peppers and other stewed and/or fried vegetables.

“It’s really good!” remarked Stella Jamsen, a 10-year-old student at Lakewood Elelmentary in Ann Arbor. Jamsen, who had never tried ratatouille, was not aware that the dish was prepared by students in an Ann Arbor schools summer camp. “They did a good job!” The ratatouille was offered as a part of the school district’s Farm to School program. The program regularly provides free fresh fruits and vegetables to students across the district, whether or not they purchase hot lunch. Most of the samples are provided by local farms, but this week’s offering was grown and prepared by AAPS Community Education and Recreation students.


Lakewood Elementary student Claire Cerda and principal Michael Johnson serve up student-prepared ratatouille at lunch Friday.

Angela Smith | For

Students who participated in the AAPS Summer Green Camp worked on growing and preparing the ingredients for the meal. In August, the first- through fourth-grade participants took part in cooking lessons from Chartwells chefs, the professionals who regularly provide the lunches for the AAPS elementary schools. “Using the Pioneer high school kitchen, the green gampers and the chefs at Chartwells created ratatouille and Asian slaw with ingredients they picked the day before. The ratatouille was then 'flash frozen' to be used for school lunches on this designated day, according to a press release.

For the first time in 15 years the Food and Drug Administration is proposing to make changes in the $11 billion dollar school lunch program.html What does the agency want? More fruits and vegetables, less potatoes and starch and a lot less salt.

Lakewood principal Michael Johnson helped to serve the vegetable-rich dish Friday. “To know that they (students) actually have a connection with what it is that we serve for lunch; it has a special magic to it.” He was pleased that students were given a choice to try the dish in addition to the regular offering of macaroni and cheese. Robin Schultz-Purves, Community Education Coordinator for AAPS, said that students in the program were pretty excited about the thought of having their creations served within the school district. Schultz-Purves estimated about 400 students throughout the district and surrounding area took part in the camp. Eleven of them were from Lakewood Elementary. Students who participated in the program were encouraged to wear their Green Camp shirts to school Friday. Claire Cerda wore hers proudly, and helped to create excitement for the special meal.

Schultz-Purves said the Green Camp program is successful because it offers academic enrichment and a focus on environmental issues, both camp topics that are in high demand by area parents. The Green Camp Summer 2012 schedule will be available in January at the AAPS REC and Ed website. The collaboration among Chartwells, Rec and Ed and the Farm to School Program was integral in making this work, according to Schultz-Purves.

Angela Smith is a freelance writer for


Julianne Smith

Sat, Nov 5, 2011 : 7:34 p.m.

My kids loved this culinary adventure last week. I received lengthy and enthusiastic descriptions of the ratatouille and its provenance. The Farm to School program is a fantastic offering and is a world apart from the "mystery meat" of my hot lunch days. Good job, everyone -- and thanks!


Sat, Nov 5, 2011 : 4:28 p.m.

I love ratatouille. We made it for Xmas one year. Had to look in an old cookbook to get it a good version of it. Otherwise, the French do a good job as well. For the freshest veggies? Blocks near the airport to get the best. Now I am ready to make me some ratatouille.

Jeff Gaynor

Sat, Nov 5, 2011 : 2:40 p.m.

I know it sounds silly, but as a city kid (born and raised in Detroit) I thought all food came from the Supermarket. Who knew it grew in the ground? And now kids eat what they grow ... Amazing!