The main cafeteria, located on the 6/F of the Canadian International School of Hong Kong campus, has been a gathering place for students, staff and parents alike for many years. A place where friends meet for lunch or a quick coffee at the Maple Cafe, and also where the community gathers to sample the great offerings of the International Food Fair during the CISPA Family Fun Fair, to make mooncakes ahead of the Mid-Autumn Festival, or to participate in one of the annual ‘Paint-Your” events put on by the Habitat for Humanity Club. A few years ago, when the school began crafting its strategic plan it was no surprise that renovating the cafeteria was included as part of the school’s improved facilities development plan.
Leading up to the cafeteria renovation has been three years of hard work—from stakeholder surveys asking the community what changes they wanted to see, to meetings between the school, its food service provider (Maxim’s), and architects as they discussed what could be achieved—the school’s goal was to introduce a new dining experience that would appeal to all.
Along with renovating the entire back kitchen and installing new state-of-the-art equipment, a new front kitchen was also introduced that includes four stations where diners can watch their food being freshly prepared. Round tables were also brought in to allow for more inclusivity, while a living green wall adds warmth to the space.
As a green school, the renovations were also undertaken with our sustainability policy in mind. CDNIS is striving for a gold accreditation on the BEAM Plus scale, which is “a comprehensive set of performance criteria for a wide range of sustainability issues relating to the planning, design, construction, commissioning.”
The school also collaborated with alumna Peggy Chan ‘02, Managing Director at Grassroots Initiatives Consultancy, to re-design the cafeteria menus. Peggy previously helmed Grassroots Pantry and Nectar, two plant-based restaurants, and has championed causes of food sustainability and clean eating for many years. She has given back generously to the CDNIS community, with many classes enjoying field trips to her restaurant. Upper School students also gained valuable work experience during summers in Grassroots Pantry too.
“It’s always been a dream of mine to create a nourishing and sustainable school food programme,” explained Peggy. “I am deeply inspired by the work of Alice Waters and in particular Jamie Oliver, who for many years tackled the quality of school food. What we’re aiming to do is to be a bridge between the school and Maxim’s to get students eating delicious nutritious food.”
“With the revamp of the school lunch options, we are hoping that students will be excited to order lunch at school,” said Upper School Vice Principal David Butler. “The school has worked hard with Grassroots and Maxim’s to significantly increase the quality and variety of food, appealing to Western and Asian palates.”
Since the spring, Grassroots and Maxim’s have been working closely together to bring about positive change in time for the start of this school year. Some of the steps taken include discussing which meat ingredients can be substituted for plant-based ones, trying different plant-based recipes and using non-dairy alternatives. The Grassroots team also shared 20 new salad recipes, complete with complementary dressings, replacing empty starches with ingredients such as sweet potatoes for Maxim’s to offer.
Maxim’s is also changing the kitchen staples being used. This involves switching from refined salts and sugars to more nutritious, natural substitutes, as well as using olive oil instead of hydrogenated oils heavy in trans fat. “This is an easier start point than trying to change the whole menu from scratch,” explained Joel Tomas, who is also part of the Grassroots team. “By working on this, we can start at the beginning and offer a good base, for example offering red and brown rice by default, instead of white rice.”
Educating students about the benefits of healthy, sustainable diets is a key part of the collaboration between CDNIS and Grassroots Consultancy. The “Lunch Well at CDNIS” campaign will tap into the sustainability projects already being driven by students and staff at school, and bring food into the equation. The campaign will spark conversations by having simple infographics such as illustrating the impact of choosing oat milk vs cow’s milk, displayed on the TV screens in the cafeteria and on social media. This will be part of a wider effort to spread awareness, with monthly themes around the issues of food sustainability.
“Our long-term goal is to be able to influence the culture of school food in Hong Kong, and in other areas of Asia as well,” said Peggy. “Once parents and children can see the benefits of healthy, sustainable food, we really believe that it can become a movement for positive change.”