Midday at WPNY means lunchtime! Each day, the entire school stops and the children, teachers and staff, head down to the dining room where lunch is served, family-style, by our wonderful Chef Nancy and her dedicated team; Adonis, Chef Ivan and Chef Anthony (left to right). WPNY are sponsoring Adonis’ internship as he is passionate about working in a kitchen and ultimately, becoming a chef. He will be part of the team for this academic year.
Lunchtime in the Dining Room
When the children arrive downstairs in the lunch area, they wash their hands and line up ready to go into the dining room. There are three rows of tables and a teacher sits at either end of each row of tables, to help the children and oversee things. In addition to these tables, there is a separate table for the Nursery children, which is lower and has smaller chairs. The teachers who aren’t on lunch duty eat at a separate table in the area just outside of the dining room. So, the whole school takes the time to stop and be together for this very important meal of the day. The children sit in a different place every day with the classes mixed together. This way the children have the opportunity to get to know children in different year groups and learn from those around them.
Once the children are settled, Chef Nancy brings in the food from the kitchen on large serving plates and the food is dished onto china plates that are already in place in front of each child, as well as silverware and a glass, in which they are served water (no juices or other drinks). Everyone waits until each person has their food on their plate and then one of the teachers announces they may begin.
The children are encouraged to keep chatting to a minimum when it’s time to eat so that they can focus on the task in hand. If the children finish their first serving of food, they may ask for a second serving. However, if they haven’t finished their first plate of food, they’re not served a second. So, it’s not possible for children to fill up on a food of their choice with a second helping if they don’t try and eat the other food on their plates. Chef Nancy is striving for a balanced meal and the children are encouraged to eat the different food groups they are served each day. Children with special dietary requirements are also well catered for with an appropriate, individualized, well thought out meal each day.
By putting their knife and fork together in the middle of the plate, the children signify they are ready to have their plate collected. The children are then allowed to talk before their dessert is served. Dessert is always fresh cut fruit. If there is one or more birthday in any given week, the children have cookies on a Friday to celebrate. Cookies are only ever served for birthdays. Whilst the children are enjoying their dessert, the teachers identify a Star of the Day from each table. These are the children who have best demonstrated they are behaving according to the Lunch Rules:
- We will keep our food on our plate.
- We will remember our manners.
- We will use quiet inside voices.
- We will line up sensibly and quietly.
By 12:30pm the children have finished their dessert and are ready to line up to leave the dining room, replenished and ready to focus on their afternoon activities!
The Team Behind the Food Sourcing, Selection, Nutrition and Menu Creation
Chef Nancy works for a fantastic company called JC Food and has done since 1993. The company was founded by Joseph Civita in 1985, whom Chef Nancy works very closely with. Joe began his career in the independent school community when he became the Director of Food Services at the Brearley School. Joe had formerly worked at The Four Seasons Restaurant here in New York City and thought “If you can do it in a restaurant, why not in a school?”. Joe set out to remake school food. He would go to the local greengrocer early each morning to hand select the freshest ingredients he could find and then carefully prepare them to preserve their nutrients, colour and taste. Before long, Brearley School’s lunchroom was becoming well known and other schools wanted to know how they could acquire this unique high-level food service. So that is how JC Food was born and has become one of the best-known food service companies specializing in independent schools in New York City. WPNY is a client school of JC Food, as are many other independent schools here. JC Food provides the philosophy and team behind WPNYs food service.
With Joe’s passion for the school food service industry, it’s no surprise that his daughter grew up following in his footsteps! Lisa Suriano is the Nutritionist at JC Food and works extremely hard to procure the very best local and organic products that are used to create the bespoke menus very carefully created for each client school. Lisa constantly reviews these menus, in conjunction with the resident chefs placed in each client school, to emphasize whole grains, fresh produce and well-balanced meals. Importantly, Lisa has developed and implemented the Veggiecation© Program, successfully encouraging countless children to eat and love their vegetables! And guess who is the Recipe Developer for the Veggiecation© Program? It’s Chef Nancy!
Vegetables are the most powerful part of the plate, and yet they are the most often ignored. In order to increase consumption, they ought to be marketed to children in the same ways processed foods have been. Veggiecation© is not a vegetarian program – it’s simply a pro-veggie program!
Chef Nancy uses the Veggiecation© program to especially focus on three different vegetables each week and, in conjunction with Lisa, creates a weekly menu which will involve these vegetables in an interesting way. Posters are then put up on the wall in the dining room so that the children can read about each vegetable that they’re tasting, and in some cases, trying for the first time! The three vegetables the children were learning about and tasting at the time of meeting with Chef Nancy were beets, butternut squash and radishes:
To encourage children to try and hopefully begin to like a certain food, Chef Nancy uses what she calls the Two Test. If she is going to be introducing a new dish the following week, she takes around Try Me Cups to the children so that they can sample the new dish. She will ask them to try it and talks them through how the taste will be different to anything they’ve had before and that this first bite is to only realise its difference…not to make a judgement about whether they like it or not. Then, she asks them to take a second bite. This time, now that the taste and texture is not such a shock, it is time for them to consider what they think of it. She encourages the children to really chew the food and to talk through how they are feeling about the taste and texture and asks them to describe it. She says this method frequently succeeds in helping to build a child’s relationship with different tasting foods with perhaps new and unexpected textures too.
Sometimes, the menu includes a soup or bisque at the beginning of the meal. If it’s something the children have likely not tried before, Chef Nancy will stand at the soup serving station in the dining room, pour herself a cup and show the children that she is trying it herself. She’ll describe it to them and then once they’ve watched her trying it, they are all the more enthusiastic and ready to give it a go themselves. This scenario recently happened with miso soup with organic tofu! The children were eager to give it a try after they’d seen Chef Nancy do so and they absolutely loved it once they’d tried it!
What comes across again and again whilst talking with Chef Nancy is how much thought is behind every single thing she does for our children, no matter how big or small that thing may be. She knows every child by name and, whenever possible, she spends time at each table, observing and interacting with the children, making the effort to know what their thoughts are and how they are feeling about the dishes she has prepared for them. Chef Nancy prides herself on how, in her words, she is “feeding the future”. She said “I feel proud and privileged to be with your children. I love seeing their faces when they are enjoying their food! I like to build a relationship with each of them so that they trust me, and they then feel comfortable with trying the food I prepare for them.”
Chef Nancy often mixes in vegetables in unexpected ways for the children to enjoy. For example, mac and cheese is not only pasta with cheese at WPNY…it’s legume pasta with a sauce of organic milk, cheddar cheese and pureed cauliflower! Just as mac and greens is made with sautéed kale, pesto (no nuts) and peas! The children “devour it”
|Type of Food||Quality|
|Meat (beef, chicken) NOTE: pork is not served||Antibiotic free and hormone free|
|Vegetables||Best local and organic products available|
|Fruit||Best local and organic products available|
|Pasta and grains||Organic|
In addition to lunch at midday, the children have snack time twice each day. The first is at 10:00am when Chef Nancy and her team deliver fresh cut fruit to each classroom for their morning snack. In the afternoon, the snack is provided by a great company called Healthy Snack Solutions. These are high quality, healthy snacks by providers such as Annie’s Organic, Back to Nature, Made Good and Bare Fruit, amongst others. Chef Nancy rotates the choice of snacks every two weeks so that the children always have a variety.
What is Chef Nancy’s Background?
It’s clear that Chef Nancy has a wealth of experience and expertise in sourcing food, planning and creating menus, preparing the food and serving it to our children in a personal way. So, where does her passion and thoughtfulness come from?
Chef Nancy’s parents both moved to the U.S. from other countries when they were young adults. Her father grew up in Spain and her mother in Puerto Rico. They both grew up in cultures and families where food and cooking were the centerpiece to their lifestyles. Her father was a butcher and her mother worked in a restaurant. Chef Nancy grew up in a household where both her parents took turns in cooking the family meal. It wasn’t just something one of her parents did, it was both of them and both felt equally as passionate about food. Food and cooking always meant happiness in her childhood home, which is what motivated her to earn a degree in Hotel and Restaurant Management at New York City Technical College. After graduation, she was selected by the school to do an internship in Germany. She took full advantage of her time in Europe, travelling extensively and getting first-hand experience in sampling different foods and cultures. When she returned to New York, she worked in independent school food service for four years as the Assistant Chef Manager before taking on her current position of Travelling Executive Chef at JC Food. Although Chef Nancy oversees a number of JC Food client schools, WPNY is extremely fortunate that Chef Nancy (or Chef Fancy Nancy as the children have begun to call her because she always does something better than normal!) is our resident chef.
Chef Nancy credits Miss Bailey’s vision and exceptional leadership in motivating her to want to be a part of the dedicated, thoughtful and forward-looking team at WPNY. She says, “From the beginning, Miss Bailey and I have partnered to give outstanding substance in our daily food offerings, to every child, and our entire community at WPNY. I look forward to coming to work every single day!”.
Chef Nancy has twin daughters, who she loves cooking with at home. Unsurprisingly, her daughters have an ever-growing love for creating delicious food!
Chef Nancy’s Work at Church of the Village – Hope for Our Neighbors in Need
Not only does Chef Nancy work for us at WPNY all week, she spends two Saturday’s a month working in the kitchen at Church of the Village on 7th Avenue and 13th Street. She is a major contributor to the Hope for Our Neighbors in Need program. When Chef Nancy started working on this project five years ago, the kitchen was visited by around 75 people without a home, desperately in need of a good, nutritious, hot meal. Five years later, Chef Nancy and her team feed over 500 people each Saturday! People travel in from a wider area now to benefit from the food Chef Nancy and her team of volunteers prepares for them. What invaluable work this is!
Last year, some of the children from WPNY were given the opportunity to help Chef Nancy with her work at Church of the Village on two separate Saturdays. The children did a fantastic job of helping prepare food in the kitchen, giving out trays to those people who visited to eat, as well as giving out fresh cut fruit to them. Miss Bailey is working with Chef Nancy to provide the same opportunities this year for our children to help with the Hope for Our Neighbors in Need project again.
What a very unique opportunity our children have to be a part of this project that is helping so many people in such a positive way. Participating in this project provides the opportunity to feel empowered to help those in need in such a tangible, beneficial way. It is a very powerful way to educate our children about people less fortunate than themselves and shows them they have the ability to do something to make a difference.
Thank you, Chef Nancy, to you and your team for all you do for our children and our entire WPNY community!