Dishing with the chef: Creative, healthy school lunches

2013-08-28T00:00:00Z Dishing with the chef: Creative, healthy school lunchesBy Kathleen Allen Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
August 28, 2013 12:00 am  • 

Kathy Iannacone has a simple philosophy about school lunches: Healthy. And then even more healthy.

It’s a philosophy that Iannacone, 60, has followed in the eight restaurants she has run, including the vegan restaurant Urban Fresh, which opened in December, and the now-closed Enoteca.

While she had always been committed to healthy eating, her resolve became more strongly rooted when her health took a turn for the worse. Eventually she was diagnosed with fibromyalgia..

About six years ago the self-taught chef retired — she didn’t have the energy or will to work.

Until she changed her diet.

“I knew that we are what we eat, and that good nutrition plays a role in our immune system,” said Iannacone, who is now a vegan.

“I knew I needed to get more nutrition — juicing, fruits, no processed foods. I didn’t eat in restaurants anymore. As an owner of one, I knew that the food is overloaded with salt, sugar and oil.”

Her approach to eating, which was instinctual rather than doctor-directed, had an almost immediate impact.

“I started feeling better pretty quickly,” she recalled. “After a few weeks of juicing I felt well enough to exercise.”

She gradually added more exercise, pulling the energy from her vegan diet.

Her good-and-healthy approach is put into practice when she prepares lunches for schoolchildren.

“It’s important to not use any processed foods,” she said. “And to pack as many vegetables as possible.”

That’s all well and good, but what if the kids turn up their cute little noses at the meal?

Iannacone has a way to convince them it’s good.

“We’ll take a freshly made, whole-wheat tortilla and put almond butter, agave, cinnamon and fresh apple slices on it and wrap it.”

That’s sweet and enticing without loading down the children with unhealthy sugars and fats. And wraps offer a wide variety of options — they can hold goodies such as beans, vegetables and fruit.

She’s a big advocate of green salads, too. But she cautions on the dressing — too much oil isn’t good for children.

“We use a creamy dressing made from cashews instead of oil,” she said.

Kids are also nuts about pastas, and Iannacone finds a way to pack a pasta dish with loads of vegetables and loads of taste.

Her experience has taught her what works.

“Kids like creamy stuff,” she said. “They’ll eat fruit, and love pizza. We do a pizza roll with homemade ricotta, lots of spices, tomatoes, basil and whatever vegetables are fresh.”

She even knows how to satisfy their junk-food cravings: She makes her own corn chips and salsa.

Other tips she offers for school lunches:

So many people are lactose-intolerant these days that she never packs dairy into a lunch.

Start with basic ingredients, such as a wrap with almond butter and carrots, celery and cucumber sticks. “Those are simple and don’t require a lot of time in the kitchen.”

Don’t try to fool your child. “Don’t disguise the vegetables,” said Iannaccone, who holds cooking workshops for children and parents. “Show them what they are eating; have them get used to it.”

Recipes courtesy of Kathy Iannacone, Urban Fresh

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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