Pizza, hamburgers, nachos, and chicken tenders remain the kids’ go-to food choices, but Kim Leung is on a mission to change that at Goleta schools. Clocking in to her second year as the district’s food services director, Leung (pronounced lee·ung) is a registered dietician who grew up in Oregon. She spent hours at a very young age chopping green beans for her mother’s restaurant, and it took a while before she could bear to eat them. This could explain how she intuits so well the tasty sauces that kids love — as on the chipotle bean salsa salad she introduced last year and a kale salad whose honey-sesame dressing was a hit: “The 5th graders were competing to see who could eat the most!” she said in wonderment.
With new equipment — two gigantic cooking pots, a huge tilting frying pan, and a refrigerator-sized oven — purchased by the school board this year, Leung just needs a head chef to keep her scratch-cooking program growing. “Nowhere else in the food industry can you have a job that lets you off at 2:30 in the afternoon,” she exclaimed, “and you never have to work nights or holidays!”
Leung’s kitchen also won grants of more than $300,000 for state-grown foods, equipment, and nutrition education. Another grant kick-starts the district’s “cooked from scratch” program for its nine schools. Visiting the main kitchen on Fairview Avenue is an annual field trip for several classes, which gives the kids a chance to learn about foods and Leung a chance to try out recipes or new vegetables. “We do fun things, like using our senses: What does it smell like, feel like?” she said. “Are you brave enough to lick it?”
During the school year, her kitchen feeds about 2,000 kids daily, and Leung constructs menus monthly, keeping nutrition and wellness in mind and also exposing the children to new foods, such as kale chips and quinoa bowls. “We are definitely cooking up change!” she said. The black-bean brownie recipe below is a case in point. Leung pointed out that whole-grain and whole-wheat items are part of a perfectly healthy meal, as well as meat and eggs, but the recipe is another way to open the students’ eyes to alternatives. For Leung, avoiding highly processed foods is the alternative she wants to give Goleta’s schoolchildren.
Fudgy Black-Bean Brownies
1½ cups canned black beans
2 tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder
½ cup rolled oats
¼ tsp salt
⅓ cup honey
2 tbsp sugar
1¼ cup vegetable oil
2 tsp vanilla
½ tsp baking powder
½ cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
Preheat oven to 350°F. Food-process black beans until completely smooth. Combine all ingredients well. Stir in most chocolate chips. Pour into 13″x9″ or 8″x8″ pan. Sprinkle remaining chips on top.
Bake 15-18 minutes. Let cool 15 minutes. Refrigerate for a firmer texture. Makes 24 small portions.