Culturally-Relevant Recipes

How do you successfully incorporate culturally diverse recipes that reflect the student population at your school? Mellissa Honeywood, Director of Food and Nutrition Services at Cambridge Public Schools (CPS), answered this question and more at Massachusetts’ Farm to Cafeteria Conference: Pollinate! last week in Worcester.

Honeywood began by discussing racial disparities in food and health. Race, class, and culture affect the foods we are familiar with. Honeywood noted that structural racial inequity is multi-institutional, and can be affected by factors such as housing, childcare, employment, education, and transportation. Child obesity rates vary by race, with the highest rates in Black and Latino children. Almost 16 million children in America often go to bed hungry, with Black children typically experiencing food insecurity more than other races. In addition, there are many cultural differences found within races. Read more about Racial Equity in the Food System in this report by the Center for Social Inclusion. These factors are important to consider in the Cambridge Public Schools, which has a diverse student population.

Culturally-Relevant Recipes Session

Ian Lavallee and Mellissa Honeywood of Cambridge Public Schools prepare a tomato and tofu dish.

By incorporating culturally-relevant recipes into school meals at CPS, students are encouraged to participate in school lunch. Honeywood shared steps that have helped her to successfully integrate international flavors in school meals in the Cambridge Public Schools:

1. Ask the community what they eat
Hold focus groups with immigrant families in the district. In CPS, they found that parents wanted family recipes to be incorporated into school meals.

2. Sample and adapt recipes
At CPS, family recipes were submitted and adapted at the high school. Recipes were researched for authenticity and adjusted to fit nutrition standards. It is also important to think about the feasibility of preparing recipes and if they are financially sustainable.

3. Sample, market, and repeat
Offering taste tests, such as during the school lunch hour, is important to get students familiar with new dishes.

4. Menu offering
Provide the new item on the school lunch menu, and analyze the sales data.

Tomato and tofu dish

Tomato and tofu dish, featuring tofu from 21st Century Foods based in Jamaica Plain.

In addition to incorporating multi-cultural recipes, CPS has been been able to include local foods into school meals. Cambridge Public Schools’ collaboration with CitySprouts has helped the schools to integrate gardens at the schools, and local foods from the gardens into the school menu. Cambridge Public Schools has also been ranked #1 for Best Food in America in a School District! View the story on Channel 5 and read about the methodology for the rankings.

For additional resources, click here for links to family recipes from Cambridge Public Schools. More recipe ideas for school meals can be found on JSI’s Recipes and Menus page in the JSI Resource Center.