To Nonna with love
As a boy, Jason Feliciotto remembers squeezing his precious Nonna’s hand as he strolled the streets of Leichhardt. With the smell of freshly brewed coffee wafting from local cafes, and familiar Italian voices promoting fresh produce the pair would begin their daily ritual. First visiting the local grocer and sampling the produce before buying fresh fruit and vegetables. Then to the butcher before walking home and stopping along the local train lines to pick fennel for their evening meal.
For Jason, these joyous childhood memories left a lasting impression. He established a lifelong love of food that is the underlying philosophy behind his company, The School Canteen.
“My Nonna is my inspiration. She grew up in a poor family in Sicily living off the land and learnt to create delicious, wholesome foods simply. She always said, ‘good food is made with love, to be shared with others’, “Jason explained.
Many years later, still living in the inner west, Jason and his wife began raising their own family. His love affair with food continued as Jason used Nonna’s traditional recipes to cook for his own family. One day Jason’s daughter complained about a red, angry rash on skin. Eczema was diagnosed, and a careful plan devised to find the cause and the cure.
“I looked around our yard, but couldn’t find any plants that would cause an allergy. Our dinners were all my Nonna’s recipes, keeping the food fresh and seasonal with no artificial flavours and colours. Then we noticed a pattern. and realised it was her school lunch orders, causing her eczema,” Jason said.
While scanning the school lunch menu Jason realised all the food was packaged and processed. Everything was brought in warmed up and served, with little or no options. Jason thought there must be a better way to feed children ‘real’ food, just like his Nonna fed him all those years ago.
In 2012 Jason and his wife walked away from their corporate jobs and started The School Canteen from a central production kitchen in Haberfield. Their philosophy was unique, ‘to serve children tasty, freshly made food every day, free of artificial, flavouring, preservatives and colouring.’ Beginning with Dobroyd Point Public School in Haberfield, The School Canteen was an immediate success and other schools joined their network. Now there are ten schools in the inner west enjoying meals and snacks prepared by The School Canteen.
“Our food philosophy is very strong, and we will never put profits ahead of quality or service. We prepare wholesome, nutritious food for children in a kitchen by people turning raw produce into real food,” Jason said.
Little PeopIe Nutrition Mandy dos Santos is a mum of three, nutritionist, food scientist and kitchen mess maker. She loves food and wants you and your family to too.
Mandy said that she had the pleasure of meeting Jason from The School Canteen a few days ago. We talked for almost 2 hours about what he, his wife Kirsty and their wonderful team cook for schools around the inner west in Sydney. Amazing. But what has stuck with me is a story that Jason told me about his Nonna taking him down to the railway at Leichhardt and foraging for fennel. Food memories, I love them.
Like “The School Canteen”, Mandy believes that it is essential to nurture the love of food in children by exposing them to fresh, handmade meals which are cooked and prepared using whole foods. That if we can develop a child’s palate and desire for food like “The School Canteen” provides, that we can affect a positive relationship with food and health as they grow.
Mandy is excited to be associated with an organisation like “The School Canteen” that upholds these values of fresh, whole foods, using a variety of food groups, colourful fruits and vegetables and reducing the use of processed foods and artificial ingredients.
“Age old recipes have been tweaked and filled with vegetables to increase their nutritional value. Food is freshly prepared from scratch in a kitchen not a factory leaving out the nasties that children don’t need. Age appropriate serving sizes, healthier snack options, low added sugar and salt content are more positives of The School Canteen.
The extensive lunch and snack menu is packed with food children recognise and love. There is a variety of sandwich fillings on a choice of bread, wraps or rolls. Hot meals include home-made pizzas with healthy toppings, sausage rolls, curry, risotto and lasagne. The Napolitano sauce, a favourite is a Nonna classic, loaded with lentils, spinach, onions, garlic, carrot, celery and basil.
“As parents ourselves, we know how busy life can get, but we also know the importance of good nutrition for the growth and development of our kids. Currently, around half of all NSW school students buy their lunch at school at least once a week. That is why we believe it is so important to provide not only delicious, but nutritious lunches and snacks for children,” Jason said
The School Canteen hopes to increase their network of schools and investigate the possibility of providing take home meals to school families and a fresh food delivery service. Jason also hopes to incorporate the school garden into his service to give children a better understanding of how food ends up on their plate.
“We also know good nutrition needs to be supported by an active lifestyle. Our ‘Get Active’ program aims to create a network of trained, caring sport professionals and coaches to safely guide children into a fitter future,” Jason said.
In a rare, quiet moment during school lunch Jason will often see the many children devouring one of his Nonna inspired meals. The smell of the fresh meal, their laughter and joy reminds him of his childhood.
“My Nonna would be amazed, and so proud that so many children and their families are enjoying her meals every day,” Jason said.
For more information on The School Canteen please contact Jason on 0416 786 603 or Email: firstname.lastname@example.org