Good food for kids: Jennifer Foege delivers

When Vashon kids head off to some of the Island’s day camps this summer, Jennifer Foege hopes that the food she makes will nourish many of them for their days’ adventures and for the years ahead.

Jennifer Foege and her daughter Olyana prepare and pack a lunch to go.

When Vashon kids head off to some of the Island’s day camps this summer, Jennifer Foege hopes that the food she makes will nourish many of them for their days’ adventures and for the years ahead.

Foege, a certified nutritionist, is the owner of The Joyful Kitchen and over the years has focused on nutritional counseling and education. This summer she will expand her business and begin offering organic catered lunches to kids attending the YMCA program and Camp Sealth. This fall she will offer the service for students at Island preschools, Carpe Diem, The Harbor School and Chautauqua Elementary School.

The lunches — which she will pack in stainless steel double-decker lunch pails and deliver to the children — are almost entirely organic, hand-made and a healthy balance of protein, vegetables, fiber and fat, she said. One day, lunch might include red lentil dahl with sweet brown rice and berry yogurt, for example, while another day’s lunch might be lentil burgers, tomato and corn salsa and fresh fruit, and another day’s might be red beans and rice, yams and corn griddle cakes.

“When the students eat the lunches I will provide, they will be better able to sit in class and learn — to focus better, feel calm, be open to learning and formulate their own ideas,” she said, stressing that what we eat at any age affects our physical and mental well-being — and our ability to learn.

Foege, who worked on revamping school lunch programs both on Vashon and in Los Angeles, is supportive of the people who make and serve school meals on a severely limited budget, stretching dollars as far as they can, but she is critical of some of the food itself.

“There is research that shows artificial flavors and colors in food cause hyperactivity in kids, she said, adding that school food often contains artificial ingredients and tends to be low in fiber — essential for sustained energy throughout the day — and high in sugar, salt and fat.

The food conditions children’s taste buds to want exactly those things: sugar, salt and fat, she said. “We’re creating a nation of convenience food kids.”

Foege noted that during lunch times she used to visit her husband David Foege, a teacher at McMurray Middle School until he died last April. At lunch he would advise her not to look at what kids were eating, but she saw anyway: A large cookie and a bag of chips would serve as lunch for one student while chicken nuggets, a mound of ketchup and a cookie would be considered nourishment for another.

Some parents, including those whose children claim to be satisfied with chips and a cookie, might wonder if their children would respond well to the food Foege serves, but she is clear about its quality and appeal, even for the pickiest of eaters.

“I can guarantee that every child will like at least one thing in every meal,” she said.

With a master’s degree in nutrition from Bastyr University and an undergraduate degree in psychology, Foege understands that food is rarely simply food — it often has emotions, values and cultural issues attached to it, she said.

“You can’t throw something in front of someone’s face and say, ‘Eat.’ I know there is more to it than that. That’s why early exposure is so important.”

We can see the effects of poor nutrition in kids now, according to Foege.

“Children are suffering from diabetes. Kids are having heart disease, and there are special car seats made for obese kids.”

It’s up to the parents to make good food choices for their young children, she said, and it can be done in a joyful and inspired way, including with her lunches, which allow parents to know their kids are being provided with healthy food — with all the shopping, preparation and cleanup taken care of, as well, she said.

“I tell parents, ‘You are in charge of what your young children eat. You don’t have to make food into a conflict zone. Food is about sharing,’” she said. “Given a little time and a lot of choices kids can appreciate the way whole foods taste. Your child’s exposure to different foods and flavors will cultivate a discriminating and selective palate that will last their whole lives.”