Food for Thought

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Evidence of the healthy food movement is all around us. Restaurants and grocery stores are filled with fat-free, vegan, gluten-free, low-carb and vegetarian options. People everywhere are cutting back on carbohydrates and refined sugars to stay fit and reap the physical benefits of eating healthy. But a less-discussed topic is how diet affects the brain. Poor diets have been shown to negatively affect our gray matter, leading to impaired brain function and mood disorders. FLIK Independent School Dining, a national program, is set up to reduce these negative affects by providing schools with wholesome, nutritious meals for its students and staff.

Not only are FLIK meals fresh and made from scratch, but they support local and sustainable agricultural practices. The program also offers nutrition education to empower students to make healthy eating choices a lifelong habit rather than just something that happens on school days. Part of its philosophy is to equip students with the tools they need to live a happy, healthy life. FLIK President Ray Mulligan states, “We take great pride in knowing the significant role we play in students’ development from kindergarten through high school graduation.”

Mike Littell, vice president for advancement at St. Xavier High School, is familiar with the program – the college-preparatory school in Louisville was the first in the region to start offering FLIK meals almost a decade ago. “We look at food the way a small college would,” Littell says. “We’re of the mindset that we need to outsource quality food delivery that meets the needs of our students.”

Littell feels that FLIK’s breakfast, lunch and after-school menus do just that. Most of the 1,600 employees and students at St. Xavier take advantage of the FLIK meal plan. Thanks to the recent renovation of the dining facilities this past August, its food service and kitchen dining areas are robust, boasting diverse options from various areas, such as the pasta station, salad station or hot meal station. However, Littell adds that though they have new, modern facilities, it’s the people behind the place that make meals great. “Jim Hunnicutt is the executive chef,” Littell says. “He and his team make it go.”

Hunnicutt and fellow FLIK chef Nick Sundburg certainly do go above and beyond. In addition to providing more than 1,000 people with multiple meals each day, the duo also leads the St. Xavier Culinary Club. At the beginning of the school year, club members choose the cuisine they’d like to learn about. Hunnicutt and Sundburg generate food items from the students’ suggestions, educate them on the cultural aspects of the food, then teach them how to prepare the cuisine. The students do the catering for various school events then culminate their membership by creating a meal for their parents at the end of the school year.

Though FLIK plays a huge role in providing nutritious meal options and educating students, the young men of St. X would probably argue that the best part about FLIK meals is that they satisfy the taste buds. “If you serve 100 of our students,” Littell says, “you’ll get well over 90 that say the food is fantastic.” He adds that after prospective students spend at day at St. Xavier shadowing their peers, they’re asked to list their favorite parts of the visit – and food is always in the top three. “I guess when you’re 13 years old, your belly takes priority,” Littell laughs. At least he can rest assured knowing that once his students’ bellies are full, their minds will be too. VT