Chef Nora Pouillon had simple advice for making Monday's lunch better at the Jefferson Junior High School cafeteria: Serve the escarole garnish instead of the iceberg lettuce, and cut the grease from the made-from-scratch rolls.
Also, hold the breaded little fast-food nuggets. Instead, use chicken to make a stew, adding some of the canned corn that was offered as a side dish. Add rice, a staple enjoyed by most of the world's people.
"Being ethnic is easier," said Pouillon, one of several culinary trendsetters who gathered in Washington to talk about making school lunches tastier and more nutritious.
Pouillon, owner of Nora's, which serves organic foods in the nation's capital, said a cheap, basic ingredient like rice can be made at least a dozen ways without boring anyone.
The chefs met with school food service operators and nutritionists at the request of Ellen Haas, the assistant secretary of agriculture for food and consumer services.
Haas wants to cut the fat and salt from school meals that cost federal taxpayers $7-billion a year. She wants to add more fresh fruits and vegetables.
"Taste and appeal is central to any of those changes," Haas told the chefs, school dietitians and cooking instructors.
They talked about using more spices and marinades to fool the palates of a generation being blitzed by advertisers to consume sodium and grease.
How do you make a school meal for the $1.85 or $1.90 that public schools are allowed?
"You can do a great chicken that's more nutritious," said Anne Rosenzweig, owner of Arcadia, a pricey New York restaurant specializing in American food. "You can do something like a cornbread, with vegetables in it."