Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Keeping It Real At Real Food For Real Kids (RFRK)...

I remember when I first came across their trademark blue and green catering delivery van. It was three years ago on a sunny morning having just dropped off my three-year old twins to Montessori, and driving my husband to work with my newborn asleep in the back. The name Real Food For Real Kids (RFRK) instantly struck me and I had to know more. Doing a search, I was awe-inspired reading about founder Lulu Cohen-Farnell-- her story, her company's mission, their awesome lunch program, and the positive real food influence they were making in the community. I told myself when my kids are older, RFRK would be a place I would want to work for and/or collaborate with. 

Photo Credit: RFRK HQ

Fast forward to the now, there I was last week at their facility, getting a kitchen tour with their friendly Communications Manager, David Lutterman and speaking with the great woman herself. I am thrilled to have recently started working in their school Lunch Club program and we're in talks of collaborating on our food advocacy efforts along with my role at Food Revolution Toronto. Our commitment is to help inspire families and education institutions to foster healthier food attitudes with a more conscious, sustainable (and enjoyable) approach to eating.

The Amazing Real Food For Real Kids Team!

Photo Credit: RFRK HQ

RFRK is a Toronto-based caterer since 2004, cooking fresh from scratch and using a fleet of fuel-efficient vans to deliver healthy, delicious meals and snacks to thousands of kids in the GTA every day at 30+ elementary schools and over 200 of childcare centres - and the numbers are growing. The tour in their production kitchen shows why they are relocating to their new 32,000 sq.ft. space in the east end come December-- they are truly working at capacity! David tells me more than half of the ingredients come from Ontario farmers and producers, including grass-fed beef, and sustainably-raised chicken. Founder Lulu is mainly vegetarian, occasionally eating sustainable fish, and is big on grains, legumes and pulses. Thus their catered lunch menu incorporates a large variety of these protein-rich meat alternatives such as beans, lentils, chickpeas; other than commercial bags of these and canned tomatoes, that's pretty much all they get in prepared... everything else is impressively made from scratch down to the simplest sauces! As a recipe developer myself, hearing the extra care and thought in their recipe development really showcases why they truly stand out from the rest. They use nutritious ingredients like flax seeds as a natural thickener instead of cornstarch in their popular Maple Samurai Sauce (scroll to the middle of post), and adding extra healthy goodness and protein such as navy beans in fun and delicious Granola Pucks. So fantastic!

Granola Pucks with navy beans for extra nutrition and protein.

David loves walking clients through their kitchen-- people can see staff bustling, preparing and cooking with fresh ingredients and this transparency let's you know they are the real deal! The equipment is a highlight, including massive tilting horizontal arm kettles to enable cooking from scratch on a grand scale. These cauldrons are $$-- quality equipment is needed to produce optimum food results for the kids!

I had an hour to meet with Lulu, and the time flew by. She is warm with a vibrant personality, articulate and very passionate about current food issues. We talked about their move to the new headquarters, three times larger than their current with a kitchen built to CFIA standards and on HACCP principles. What she's super excited about is that the expanded space will also include health and wellness workshops, cooking classes, tastings and tours for kids-- getting back to what she was doing with food education when she founded the company with her husband, but couldn't keep those activities up with the growing and demanding catering business over the years. As an ambassador for Food Revolution Toronto, furthering the Real Food mission and to bring awareness to food education is my priority and RFRK puts into action everything we stand for! Joining forces seems to be a natural fit-- the reach and impact we can achieve together can be far greater. Looking forward to seeing the fruits of some of the things we discussed :).

With Lulu Cohen-Farnell

So what is it about this great lunch club I am raving?

For more on the lunch club program, which schools are participating and general FAQ's click here.

Here I am at the public  elementary school I serve at. Lunch clubs could run two to five days depending on the school. I am at mine two days a week and I always look forward to seeing the kids. Our priority is to get the kids lunches served, and where we can, we impart some food knowledge-- describing the ingredients, or flavour profile of the dish to get them to try new foods and get them excited about eating it. Here are some great RFRK tried and tested recipes your kids may like. I know I already have my eyes set on Granola Pucks, Madagascar Chicken and Chili Chili Bang Bang.

The changing monthly menu is seasonal and global flavoured-inspired-- super tasty!!

I love how Lulu describes the importance that food plays in our lives “Real food is the foundation of happiness.” (quote in October 26th article in SAM "Local Produce Industry Recognizes RFRK"
). Kids that eat better, learn better... With deeper connections and a healthier relationship with fresh food, we can bring back the fundamental experience of what real food brings to the table and the real enjoyment of eating again! Here's to keeping it real!

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