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Chefs Make Change: Bill Telepan for Wellness in the Schools

When chef Bill Telepan saw the neglected salad bar in his daughter’s school cafeteria in New York City, he knew he had to do something. He joined Wellness in the Schools, a nonprofit that works with public schools to feed kids healthier food and teach them about nutrition and fitness.

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Wellness in the Schools (WITS) inspires public school kids to eat healthy, keep fit and respect the environment. Its Cook for Kids program brings culinary school graduates into cafeterias to generate excitement about healthy eating and to create tasty, cooked-from-scratch menus. Cook for Kids is currently in 25 New York City schools across three boroughs, reaching nearly 20,000 children. wellnessintheschools.org.

What Prompted Him to Join Wellness in the Schools “I was doing ‘recess duty’ at my daughter’s school and stopped in the cafeteria. The kids weren’t touching the salad bar—the lettuce was brown—so I went to the school and volunteered to create a salad-bar day with fresh greens, homemade dressings, raw vegetables. It was such a big, rousing success that I decided to get involved in a bigger way.”

Philosophy “To help the schools improve their lunches, my philosophy is, Why don’t we just do a little bit at a time? Let’s get kids to eat healthier, less processed foods and work from there. It’s not just about health, it’s also about behavior and academic performance—kids can’t learn well if they’re not eating well.”

Favorite Moment “I really love the Wellness Labs we do four times a year in all the schools. Chefs go into the classrooms with a seasonal ingredient, talk about how good it is for you and then make something out of it. When we focused on tomatoes recently, we brought little yellow ones, orange ones, red ones. I did a taste test for one kid, and the next thing I know I’m surrounded by five kids who want to try the tomatoes, and pretty soon they’re tearing up all the basil we brought and making mini flatbread pizzas.”

His Chicken Recipe for F&W “Thursday is chicken day at the schools, and it’s our most successful day of the week. We do a barbecue sauce, a Mediterranean marinade, a teriyaki glaze or a Latin marinade like the one in my F&W recipe—all made from scratch with fresh ingredients.”

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