Summer 2017 India Trip

One of many locations where food was served to children

My name is Jehan Luth and I am a Masters of Public Health Student. Before ever coming to Penn to study Public Health I was a chef (I still am) and have worked at numerous establishments including the culinary team at Campbell’s Soup Company, New York City’s Three Michelin Star Per Se Restaurant and more. Over the years I have developed a very complex relationship and understanding of food. Right from creating a highly complex dish for one of the worlds best restaurants to creating prototypes of simple soups which might reach millions of people. And over the same years, I also started learning the importance of food, the impact it can have in peoples lives and have also realized that food can potentially change peoples lives for the better or the worse.

In order to explore and build on this vision of food that can change a population, I reached out to an educational institution in India that serves thousands of children breakfast, lunch, dinner and many snacks during the day. The reason I chose an educational institution is that children are open to new recipes and they also set the future of our population. I also find an institution in India is ideal due to the vast population (over 1.2 billion people) and scattered access to resources.

Food being served to kindergartners in
a local village (philanthropic arm)

Fravashi Schools in Nashik, India has two arms which feed children. The first being primarily students who are enrolled at one of their campuses and the second being the philanthropic arm that serves thousands of meals to under privileged children in the neighboring villages. I had the privilege of working in both these arms with one mission - improve the nutritional score of the food being served while reducing the food cost for the organization.

My job was quite simple but not that easy. Leading a team with pediatric physicians, dietitians, kitchen managers, chefs and farmers we started by conducting a quick (due to the lack of time) analysis of each meal being served at each of the three locations for all of the meal times. For the sake of this blog, I will dive a little deeper in how we changed the breakfast menu for children at only one location.

By day 5 I had enough data from the dietitians and physicians about what the children should be eating in what proportion to keep their BMI and energy level in check. Day 5 was when I took a trip to some of the local farms where we discussed innovative strategies to use ingredients straight from the source at a much lower price. Considering the farmer's data and accounting for the ingredients we would have access to at our scale (over 100,000 meals a week) we began another important step in the pursuit for change - new recipes. Having a strong background in culinary innovation from concept to product, we created and improved existing recipes to fit our nutritional standards and most importantly make it appealing to our very vocal consumers - children and teenagers.

Talk given explaining the menu changes and
how students can implement these habits at home. 

Once we had completely changed the breakfast menu on one campus, we used similar strategies to create breakfast menus for the other campuses. We could not replicate the same breakfast menu at all locations due to the difference in preferences, budget, kitchen equipment and more. After breakfast menus were all set in place, we took on the lunch menu followed by the dinner menu and finally all the midday meals including snacks. During my last three days in India, we also completely changed the menu for all of the philanthropic activities to ensure proper utilization of resources, effective use of budget and nutritionally dense meals.

All in all, I was successfully able to lead a team that changed over 150,000 meals being served weekly while reducing the budget and more importantly serving food which is much more nutritionally dense than before. Obviously changing a menu at this scale involves much more than just modifying or creating recipes, we had to rethink procurement of ingredients, storage, cooking equipment, evaluation methods,serving techniques, implementing ‘design architecture’ layouts and many more components to make this a successful effort. This would not have been possible without the relentless support and dedication of administrators at all the campuses, my team and most importantly the children being open to change.