This was my Rodney Dangerfield moment. Not the type where “I don’t get no respect.” In fact, the 7 – and 8-year-olds around me were providing plenty of it (and more than my fellow elbowing diners do normally). They even offered to share their rosemary fingerling potatoes and peaches – and entertained my request for goofy faces.

No, this is the Dangerfield deal where I was living the dream like his character does in the 1980s must-watch movie Back to School, only with less party, more protein. We were lunching at Bay View Academy, a still-new K-5 charter on Del Monte by the old roller rink in Monterey. (Speaking of the RIP rink, its former owner is the force behind the new Diggitty’s Hot Dogs & Ice Cream [663-6100] which opened this month in the PruneTree Shopping Center.)

On the menu: Grilled, hormone-free chicken drumsticks bathed in a dynamic sweet barbecue sauce, plus green beans and peaches from places like Happy Boy and Swank Farms, low-fat milk and those nicely seasoned baby potatoes.

Dory Ford, Esteban Jimenez and Allison Cady have pioneered Aqua Terra Culinary’s school operations to the point that they now serve four campuses, and, depending on who you ask, have inspired similar programs from bigger operations like Earthbound Farm. Their schools pointperson is Susan Costello, who enjoys a background balanced between restaurants (in which she grew up) and education (she taught high school health and science in New York).

I remember the diets of the underserved students I worked with for years in L.A., parading in sugar-bomb lunches they procured purely from vending machines (giant Cokes! Chili-cheese Cheetos!), so I’m not too objective on this issue. Fortunately, more and more parents aren’t either, says Principal Mitch Barlas.

“Parents are really good,” he says, “[saying,] ‘What I give them can make their brains and bodies work better’ – not institutional, processed and boring.”

The trend’s producing more than contented tummies and more engaged students. There are mild shocks for administrators: “The willingness in them to try new things has been a very cool surprise,” Barlas admits.

More avenues for education await, too. “Food teaches multiple things,” says Costello, “history, culture, health, nutrition.” She was readying to read farmers market book To Market, To Market to kindergarteners and work with a Robert Louis Stevenson Lower School cooking and nutrition class about prepping pumpkin – and eating locally and seasonally.

I’m workshopping my Halloween costumes to make me look like a fifth grader (acting like one comes easy), so I can slip back undetected for some freeze tag and, more importantly, “sushi day,” a favorite that comes every month, and maybe all-natural beef hot dogs on sprouted wheat buns and the rare pizza day, when whole-wheat crusts, low-fat cheese and homemade sauce star.

May the days of mystery meat sloppy joes and deep frozen tater tots be done. Now let’s go play dodgeball.

Written by Mark C. Anderson. See full article at:

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