Getting Schooled on Healthy Foods


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Chef Jenny Gensterblum prepares healthy and kid-friendly food philosophy at Léman Manhattan


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  • Leman Manhattan Preparatory School's executive chef Jenny Gensterblum believes in healthy, well-balanced meals for studnets. Photo: Valentina Cordero




  • Leman Manhattan Preparatory School's executive chef Jenny Gensterblum believes in healthy, well-balanced meals for studnets. Photo: Valentina Cordero




  • Students at Leman Manhattan Preparatory School in the Financial District are encouraged to eat healthy food that gives them energy throughout the school day. Photo: Michelle Andonian




  • Students at Leman Manhattan Preparatory School in the Financial District are encouraged to eat healthy food that gives them energy throughout the school day. Photo: Michelle Andonian



At Léman Manhattan Preparatory School in the Financial District, students learn to think critically in the classroom—and in the cafeteria.

Located near the New York Stock Exchange, the school serves pre-kindergarten through high school students on two campuses, and its high-caliber academics are matched by its progressive dining program.

“What we try to do is make sure that the food is kid-friendly and accessible,” said Jenny Gensterblum, 33, the school’s executive chef for the last nine years, who, along with a staff of four feeds 600 students daily. Gensterblum grew up eating healthy food—her mother taught her the tenets of cooking and eating well—and trained at the French Culinary Institute (now the International Culinary Center) in Soho. After spending time in restaurants and working as a private chef, Gensterblum came to Léman, where she found inspiring kids to eat well and avoid fast food more meaningful.

Meals are included in the school’s tuition, which ranges from more than $28,000 for pre-K to third grade, to almost $44,000 for high school. Léman generally spends less than $4 per person per day on food, which includes an optional breakfast, two snacks, such as granola bars, cheese sticks or carrot sticks, and lunch.

Students with healthy eating habits are better able to focus on learning and thriving in the classrooms, according to Sarah Polland, head of grades six through 12. A balanced meal at Léman includes yogurt, fresh fruit and vegetables, with fish served two or three times a week and red meat once every other week. Whenever possible, Gensterblum sources local products. The options, which sometimes read as menu items at a Manhattan restaurant rather than a school lunch, vary each day. Some days students find eggplant casserole, Israeli couscous and tomato, cucumber and feta salad. Other afternoons, it’s vegetable ramen with a toppings bar that includes nori, soft-boiled eggs, scallions, greens and corn.

“Healthy means a lot of fresh fruits and vegetables, simple and something that you enjoy eating and not something that you feel like you have to eat,” Gensterblum said.

Gensterblum encourages kids to try new foods and different ethnic cuisine (students from 50 different countries help make up the international student body at Léman) ranging from Indian to Mexican to Spanish, and offers six or seven varieties of dishes to accommodate food allergies.

Chaz Vest, a tenth grade student, loves macaroni and cheese. For the most part, the school’s food program inspires him to eat healthy.

“But when I leave, I tend to revert back to bad eating habits,” he said.

Fried food and preservatives are never on the menu and Gensterblum seldom uses butter. Students can also sign up for cooking classes once a week.

While Gensterblum does make the meals tasty and accessible to the students, one kid favorite is noticeably absent: dessert.

“I feel like people are bombarded in New York City with all different kinds of treats that you can have,” Gensterblum said. “Kids don’t need to have them here.”




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