Sakara and NYC's Chefs Council
How Sakara's designing meals for NYC school cafeterias.
Macaroni noodles enveloped in a pureed butternut squash “cheese.” Bolognese sporting a meat-free lentil base. A quesadilla filled with sunflower seed, sweet potato, and carrot, paired with a bright and savory broccoli pesto.
Soon, these delicious, nourishing, and kid-friendly meals like these will be the answer to “What’s for lunch?” at New York City public schools.
In partnership with our community and charitable partner Wellness in the Schools (WITS), we’ve been tapped as founding members of New York City’s Chefs Council—a first-of-its-kind collaboration between WITS, the Mayor’s Office, and the New York City Department of Education Office of Food & Nutrition Services (OFNS)—to bring nutrient-dense, plant-rich, and culturally relevant lunches to New York City public school students.
“Chefs Council brings to life many of the values we’ve held since starting Sakara,” said Sakara founders and co-CEOs Danielle DuBoise and Whitney Tingle. “Our mission is to empower future generations to sit in the driver’s seat of their own health. We’re proud to do so surrounded by a community of visionaries and advocates that share our vision for a healthier future for all.”
Sakara’s very own chef and Senior Director of Procurement and R&D Tyler Ranson is developing 10 kid-approved recipes alongside her R&D team as part of this initiative. Each will then be tested at select New York City public school cafeterias throughout the 2022-2023 school year.
We sat down with Tyler to get a behind-the-scenes taste of her work with Chefs Council, and what it means to both her and to Sakara.
In your own words, how would you describe Sakara’s mission? How does our work with the Chefs Council relate to it?
To me, Sakara's mission is to use food as a channel to spark joy, and allow that to ultimately transform the way people relate to food in their bodies—to be the best versions of themselves. Chefs Council is carrying that mission through to kids. It's really setting up these habits and this relationship with food that they will hopefully carry through for the rest of their lives.
How does the Chefs Council work?
For Chefs Council, I’m working with 11 other chefs in the New York area to create over a hundred recipes to test and then ultimately roll out in schools across all five New York City boroughs during the 2022 to 2023 school year. We’re helping develop scratch-cooked (ie., made from fresh ingredients), plant-based, and culturally relevant recipes for kids—meals that they're seeing out in the world, but maybe in more processed forms. We'll also provide hands-on training for the Office of Food and Nutrition Services chefs who are working in the schools.
Are you approaching crafting these meals differently than those on Sakara’s Signature Nutrition Program?
Yes and no. With Sakara clients, one of the key criteria in creating a meal is offering them the most cutting-edge and specialty ingredients we can find. We want to surprise and, in some cases, slightly challenge them with something that they've literally never seen before. With kids, we definitely don't want to do that.
We want to make these meals feel really accessible—food that closely resembles foods that bring them comfort—but that they may not totally be used to eating. For example, one of our dishes is a mac and cheese, and we’re using pureed butternut squash as the ‘cheese.’ We're finding ways to… not trick them into eating their vegetables, but disguise them a little bit, and anchor it in something that generally kids love and is in their normal eating pattern.
What would you consider a success with the Chefs Council?
Success for me is seeing even one kid trying something that they've never tried before and going a little bit outside of their comfort zone. Or trying something and saying, ‘Wow, I actually like this,’ and being surprised by how tasty really clean, healthy food can be.
I think, ultimately, if New York City schools are able to produce one of these recipes a week, that's one day a week that these kids are not getting a dose of highly processed foods that we know contribute to lower energy levels and decreased focus, and increase risk of disease. Even if it’s just once a week or a couple kids trying it, that to me feels like success. And then if we can expand beyond that, that would be absolutely incredible.
What does this work mean to you and how does it connect to the reason that you came to Sakara many years ago?
I've felt the transformation of eating this way and have the gift of access to it in my everyday work. I can't think of anything more important than doing work to give kids who don't have access to nutrition like this each day an opportunity to have incredibly nutrient-dense options that will improve the way they interact with the world around them. It's the work we're doing every day at Sakara for our clients, but now having the ability to bring it to kids is really special.