Let’s Talk Food: School lunches in Hawaii

Thank you for Liam Nesson for bringing attention to the Aina Pono Program for the school lunches in public schools.

The Hawaii State Department of Education is increasing local food in student meals as well as connecting our keiki with the aina (land) through their food, using local products from the agricultural community.


The effort to include more local ingredients in student meals is made possible, thanks to the local farmers. In addition, the Department of Education has established community partnerships with the help of the Office of the Lieutenant Governor’s Office, The Department of Agriculture, the Hawaii Department of Health, The Kohala Center, Kokua Hawaii Foundation,Ulupono Initiative, the Hawaii Farm to School Hui, Dorrance Family Foundation, Hawaii Appleseed, Johnson Ohana Charitable Foundation, Kaiser Permanente, the Hawaii Farm Bureau Federation and HMSA.

In 2015, the Office of the Lieutenant Governor spearheaded the Farm to School initiative with Senate Bill 376 being signed into law as Act 218. A pilot program started on the Big Island with The Kohala Center, in partnership with the DOE and the Hawaii Department of Agriculture, created a kitchen and education lab to make over 600 meals daily for Kohala Elementary, Intermediate and High schools.

Then in January 2018, Mililani High School was selected as the second location to participate in the Aina Pono program with over 2,000 school lunches for over 1,000 students and an additional 2,500 school lunches for Mililani Uka Elementary and Mililani Uka Elementary Schools.

This Farm to Table program’s goal is to address the supply and demand issues surrounding the purchasing of local food for Hawaii public schools as well as increasing the purchasing of local ingredients for the school meals. Local ingredients include locally grown beef, banana, papaya, ulu, pineapple and Okinawan purple sweet potatoes. The first step of the program will be for every school to introduce a new menu every month to students using local products and E.B. DeSilva, for the month of March, introduced Chicken Papaya on a Friday.

In addition, The USDA Fresh Fruits and Vegetable Program (FFVP) provides fresh fruits and vegetables to all students as a school snack. Eligible elementary schools, through this program aim to increase the consumption of fruits and vegetables in children to impact their current and future eating habits. Elementary schools on the Big Island eligible include the following schools: Chiefess Kapiolani Elementary School, Connection PCS, Haaheo School, Hawaii Academy of Arts and Science PCS, Hilo Union Elementary School, Holualoa Elementary School, Honaunau Elementary School, Honokaa Elementary School, Hookena Elementary School, Ka‘u/Pahala Elementary School, Keaau Elementary School, Kealakehe Elementary School, Keaukaha Elementary School, Kohala Elementary School, Konawaena Elementary School, Kona Pacific PCS, Laupahoehoe Community PCS, Mt. View Elementary School, Paauilo Elementary School, Waiakeawaena Elementary School, Waiakea Elementary School, Waimea Elementary School, Waikoloa Elementary School and Volcano School or Arts and Science PCS.

I reached out to the DOE personnel about the Aina Pona program but did not get a response so I called the cafeteria manager at Keaau High School, Napoleon Kailiawa, about the various programs. Unfortunately, Mr. Kailiawa did not return my call either, but in the email from Liam Nesson, it was stated that he asked for a lunch survey, given to students, teachers and staff to rate the lunches, to ask what dishes they would like to see on the menu, what they like and dislike and the reasons for their preferences.

Thanks to one of the teachers, who volunteered to do the survey, the school was able to modify Keaau’s three week rotation menu to meet students and teachers requests, yet still meeting the federal requirements and guidelines.

At the State level, there is a “Menu Committee”that meets once a month to discuss school lunches. With the comments, the foods are tweaked to accommodate the children’s tastes.

Here is the Harvest of the Month recipe from the Aina Pono website for Okinawan Sweet Potato Pie.

Okinawan Sweet Potato Pie

Serves 12

Pie Crust:

3 tablespoons softened butter

2 tablespoons sugar

1/8 teaspoon vanilla extract

3/4 cup all-purpose flour

1 tablespoon water, as needed

Pie filling:

1-1/2 cups mashed cooked Okinawan sweet potatoes

1 large egg

3/4 cup evaporated milk

1 tablespoon butter, softened

Pinch of salt (omit if using salted butter)

1/2 cup brown sugar

2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

3/4 teaspoon fresh squeezed or concentrated orange juice

1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/8 teaspoon ground ginger

Pinch or ground cloves or nutmeg

Pie crust:

Mix butter and sugar at low speed of electric mixer until combined. Add vanilla, increase speed to high and cream for 5 minutes.

Add flour, nix on low to combine. Do not over mix. Add water as needed to bring dough together.

Lightly coat 9-inch pie pan with cooking spray or butter.

Spread and flatten dough directly onto pie pan. The dough will be soft and delicate and should not be overworked. Dock crust by poking dough several times with a fork.

Bake at 375 degrees for 10- 15 minutes, The edge of the crust should appear light brown in color.

Pie filling:

Steam, peel and mash sweet potatoes. Use mixer at medium speed for 3 to 5 minutes until very smooth and free of lumps.

Add eggs, milk,butter, salt, brown sugar, flour, orange juice, and spices. Mix on medium speed for 3 to 5 minutes until smooth and well blended.

Pour filling into crust.

Bake at 425 degrees for 15 minutes, reduce for 275 degrees for 15 minutes. A knife inserted in center of pie should come out clean.

Cool and serve.

Foodie Bites

The Hawaii Community College’s Culinary program’s Cafeteria and Bamboo Hale are open today till Friday. Call 934-2591 to check out the specials of the day and to make reservations for the Bamboo Hale, which will feature the European Standard Menu and the cuisine of Germany.



Last week’s column about Chef Alan Wong, I need to make a correction: it was the Second Migration of large sailing ships that brought the infectious diseases which devastated the Native Hawaiian workforce, resulting in the Third Migration of Immigrants to work on the plantations.

Email Audrey Wilson at audreywilson808@gmail.com.

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