We’re in the dog days of summer here in Chicago, and even with the occasional cold front, it is warm enough to produce classic fruit/vegetables favorites in your own backyard. Don’t have a green thumb? Here are a few tips to grow tomatoes, basil and peppers that make the process a little easier.
No edible garden is complete without tomatoes. They grow best between June and October and require roughly 6 to 8 hours of sunlight per day, so make sure to plant in optimal sun. Tomatoes can be directly seeded into the soil or transplanted depending on the gardener’s preference. Most tomato varieties like to grow tall rather than bushy, so trellising, staking or caging is almost always required. These different methods provide support to the plant as they grow upward, producing more and more fruit. While red tomatoes are fan favorites, tomatoes come in every color imaginable and add color to the garden.
Basil, a warm weather crop, goes as well with tomatoes in the garden as it does on the plate. These plants grow optimally between 80- to 90-degree weather and prefer rich, well-drained soil. When harvesting basil, gardeners can pinch single leaves from various parts of the plant, allowing time for it to recover and produce new leaves. Whether it's caprese salads, or pesto, basil always finds a way to spice up any meal it makes an appearance in.
While peppers vary from sweet and crisp to spicy and tear-inducing, they all prefer long, warm growing seasons. In Illinois, the season begins early July when the temperatures are consistently hot. Much like tomatoes, peppers are large fruits that sometimes make it difficult for the plant to support without additional stakes or cages. Staking with bamboo or a wire cage when the plant gets its first fruit will help the plant produce large quantities, without “breaking its back.”
This September Gourmet Gorilla will feature local bell peppers for “Harvest of the Month.” Look out for these fruits and vegetables on our menu!
-Johnny Sudekum, Sourcing and Customer Service Specialist
Celebrate with this jammy mash-up of berries, yogurt and cardamom, making these pops just rich enough and irresistible for the kids!
2/3 cups of thinly sliced strawberries
2/3 cup of blackberries
2/3 cup of blueberries
1/3 cup plus 1 Tbsp of cane sugar
1/2 tsp ground cardamom
1 1/2 cup of vanilla yogurt (or any flavor!)
Ten 3 oz ice pop molds and sticks
Combine strawberries, blueberries and blackberries with cardamom and sugar in a small saucepan. Cook over low heat, stirring regularly for 5-7 minutes, until berries are soft but not falling apart. Remove from heat and let cool and blend in yogurt using in a hand mixer. Carefully pour mixture into a pitcher. Pour mix into molds, helping some of the berries along with a spoon so they're evenly distributed. Freeze at least 4 hours (insert sticks when partially frozen) and up to 1 month.
Gourmet Gorilla partnered with the Illinois Farm to School last week at the annual summer kickoff event for our summer food program, serving up Spinach & Strawberry salads to all the kids that came out to enjoy a beautiful day at Horner Park in Chicago. We were so excited to see them all enjoying this nutrient packed lunch filled with iron and vitamin C! Spinach is a good source of vitamin C, vitamin A, and iron. Eating spinach helps maintain healthy skin, hair, and strong bones! It is also one of the best sources for potassium & magnesium which are both extremely important electrolytes in maintaining human health. Spinach has twice the amount of potassium as a banana!
Throughout the year, Gourmet Gorilla participates in the Harvest of the Month, which is a national farm to school program. Harvest of the Month demonstrates our commitment to providing more locally sourced produce to our schools while teaching students about healthy eating, nutrition, and agriculture. You'll find the calendar of fruits & veggie below, be sure to look for them on our menus in the months to come!
Good For All
Over the past month Gourmet Gorilla raised over $2,200 in support of Chicago’s Polaris Charter Academy. The 7th grade class at PCA is rounding out their school year by focusing on the food system, covering topics like food security, sustainability and healthy food access. PCA, located in the West Humboldt/East Garfield Park neighborhood is a food desert, meaning an area that does not have immediate access to affordable, nutritious food such as whole fruits, vegetables, whole grains and low fat milk.
Gourmet Gorilla crowdsourced over $2,200 from almost 30 donors, using Go Fund Me, to make 140 produce bags for participating families in the PCA community. The reusable bags were made by Movéo and consisted of broccoli, apples, oranges, lettuce, collard greens, cauliflower, grapes, bananas, potatoes and onions. Also included in each bag was a recipe card for Gourmet Gorilla’s cauliflower soup to provide inspiration for aspiring chefs! We hope that these bags and recipes will help students continue to learn about the food system and their part within it.
At the bag distribution Tuesday night, the ‘Omarion Special’ was served. This meal was designed by PCA student, Omarion, with the help of Gourmet Gorilla’s registered dietitian, Samantha Sullivan. The ‘Omarion Special’ consists of buffalo chicken, roasted sweet potato, kiwi slices and corn bread. As families ate, the room was filled with the smells of fresh produce on one side of the room, and delicious buffalo chicken on the other.
The food-focused evening ended with families picking up their produce bags, enjoying a delicious student-designed meal and enjoying each other’s company. We would like to thank the Gourmet Gorilla and PCA community for supporting this project!
- Johnny Sudekum, Sourcing and Customer Service Specialist
Here at Gourmet Gorilla we believe education is an important component of health and nutrition. Healthy habits, and conversely unhealthy ones, are learned in childhood. With this fact in mind, Gourmet Gorilla has been offering classes for local students, to teach them all about both nutrition and sustainable farming practices and empower them to make healthy choices in their own lives.
Johnny Sudekum, our Sourcing Specialist and Samantha Sullivan ,our staff Dietitian, have been at the helm of this classroom initiative and recently travelled to Polaris Charter School to share their expertise. Johnny, who led the children in an activity about the benefits and pitfalls of certain farming practices believes that offering these classes allow students to view nutrition in a new way; “We are able to show these kids that people are very passionate about these topics. There are people who have dedicated their lives to studying nutrition, and promoting sustainable farming, and making students aware of that shows them just how important these things are”. By making children aware of the different farming options available, and the implications of each one, we hope children and their families will take time to consider the impact that their food choices have not only on themselves, but also the environment.
All too often children replicate unhealthy habits they see in their households, our Dietitian Samantha stressed the importance of changing those habits; “Kids grow up without learning about the importance of nutrition, and then they pass along poor habits to their children and so on. It becomes a cycle, one that we hope we can help break.” Samantha hopes that by giving children critical information about healthy diets at a young age, we can help lower health risks for them in the future; “Last week the students were asking about diabetes, they were unaware that their diets now could affect their healths so strongly”. Samantha often hears children voicing beliefs that their fast metabolisms means they can eat what they want and not have to worry, because their weights is not affected. “They aren’t aware of the other implications,” she said. With these classes, we hope to change children's views on their diets, and make them more conscious of their food choices. Gourmet Gorilla is dedicated to ensuring that we not only provide healthy meals to children, but that we give them the tools they need to continue to make healthy choices well into adulthood.
- Alyssa Black, Customer Service Specialist
Cooking Up Pizza and Compost
Last Friday the second grade class of Congress Park Elementary School visited us at Gourmet Gorilla Headquarters for a morning of cooking, education and composting.
The class kicked off with a talk about the different ingredients in pizza and whether they are considered to be fruits, vegetables or something else. After going through each component, we let the students put on the ‘chef hat’ and make their own personal pizza. The students rolled their own dough, spread their organic tomato-based sauce and topped off their creations with choices of cheese, olives, peppers, ham and mushroom.
While the pizzas cooked in the oven, the Gourmet Gorilla team went into the next lesson; compost! The Congress Park Elementary students impressed everyone with their knowledge of the different parts that make up compost (brown things and green things) and what it can do (turn into rich soil). After learning about the different components of a compost pile, the students made their own by combining layers of soil, shredded paper and vegetable scraps. While the end product isn’t as delicious as pizza, the students took pride in that their creation.
Before heading back to school each student got to taste and take home his or her specific pizza. We are so happy we were able to share such a educational and fun morning with the Congress Park Elementary students and can’t wait for them to come back soon!
- Johnny Sudekum, Sourcing and Customer Service Specialist
Gourmet Gorilla Mission
“We are committed to working with community partners to provide solid nutrition for all children in order to help them learn and grow.”
From the beginning Gourmet Gorilla has been dedicated to providing healthy, nutrient dense foods to kids all across Northern Illinois. Multiple studies have shown that children need adequate fruit and vegetable intake to learn & grow. The vitamins and minerals found in these foods are essential for brain growth & development. This is such a critical time in a young person's life.
We are able to provide access to these types of foods during the school day but the real trick is helping provide access when the children exit those school doors at the end of the day. We are partnering up with one of our local schools, Polaris Charter Academy, to try and continue to provide access after 3 pm. This project can make a huge impact to the families of these schools, BUT we cannot do it alone. Your donation will help us finance this project so we can provide healthy, fresh produce to Polaris families for free. Each family will receive a produce bag filled with nutrient packed foods! The link is listed below. We believe every child deserves proper nutrition. Please help us fight to make this possible!
- Samantha Sullivan, RDN, LDN
Temperatures are increasing and the city’s plant life is turning to vibrant hues of green, spring is officially in the air here in Chicago! And with it comes the start of the city’s numerous farmers markets. This past Thursday, the largest running farmers market in Chicago, Daley Plaza Farmers Market, opened once again. Crowds were able to peruse collections of richly colored fruits and veggies while strolling through the Plaza. The market is a great way to support local farmers, while ensuring that your veggies are fresh and in season. The Plaza offers a wide variety of product booths and sights, try picking up one of the freshly baked goods and treats offered at the booths and take a perch at the fountain, enjoying the sights of the market as well as the historic square that is home to the renowned Picasso sculpture. Pick up some fresh flowers to brighten up your home, or simply just browse the many sellers’ offerings, taking in all that the local farmers have to offer.
The market is located at 50 W. Washington Street, near the blue line, and runs from 7am to 3 pm every Thursday until October 26. Not located near the plaza? Don’t worry, the city boasts an impressive array of markets across the area, many of which accept Link! Check out just a few of the many additional options below, and for more go online to the City of Chicago’s Event Page.
- Alyssa Black, Customer Service Specialist
Daley Plaza Farmers Market
50 W. Washington Street
Thursday 7am to 3pm
Runs until October 26th
Division Street Farmers Market
Division Street and Dearborn Parkway
Saturday 7am to 1pm
Runs until October 28th
Logan Square Farmers Market
2755 N Milwaukee Ave
Sunday 10 am to 3 pm
Runs outdoors through October 29th (Indoor market from November 6th until March 26th)
Eating with the seasons. While there are a few frigid months in Chicago that put farming—for the most part—on hold, eating locally allows consumers’ taste buds to experience the seasonality of their location, like eating fresh greens in the late spring and apples in the fall. This month consumers in and around Chicago shouldn’t have a problem finding fresh lettuce, spinach and radishes at their local farmer’s market.
Meet your veggie halfway. Buying locally attaches less miles to your fruits and vegetables, and therefore creates a smaller carbon footprint. Due to their consistently warm climates Florida and California produce most tomatoes for the United States, distributing far and wide to cities including Chicago. In the summer, however, the Midwest’s climate is warm enough to grow these delicious fruits, and many local farms take advantage of this window of opportunity. Going with the local option—weather permitting—gives consumers the same delicious foods but with fewer miles attached. Why should we let vegetables do all the traveling?
Build community, support your local farmer. Every farm has its own unique story and set of growing principles, and we think those are worth knowing! We love learning about the farms we work with, like Windy City Harvest’s Rodeo Farm, which is currently growing spinach for one of our upcoming events in June. Working with local farms also supports local economy. Taking part in a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program is a great way to consistently buy locally. By paying a fee at the beginning of the season, consumers receive a share of the harvest each week (or sometimes twice a week) with different varieties of fruits, vegetables and occasionally meat. CSAs come in all different sizes, prices and range in what produce they offer. In fact, some CSAs even allow their participants to harvest their own produce!
- Johnny Sudekum, Sourcing Specialist
Find a list of Illinois farms that offer CSAs here. We hope to see you at the farmer’s markets soon
Congress passed the bipartisan Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act back in 2010. It included new school meal guidelines which introduced more whole grains, lower sodium levels, and more fruits and vegetables into school lunches!
Since it's founding, Gourmet Gorilla has always exceeded nutritional guidelines. When these new guidelines came out, we were ahead of the curve and already integrating these requirements into our meals. With a focus on always including whole grains and freshly made meals and an emphasis on fruits and veggies, grown locally whenever possible, we've been on the front lines in the cafeterias and lunchrooms. Our job has been to make meals great, and to educate and inspire children on how awesome these foods are!
Yesterday, the USDA announced a loosening of these guidelines, providing schools with more time comply with certain regulations and relaxing the standards for others. We see things differently, and Gourmet Gorilla will continue to move the dial forward and not lose the gains and successes we've experienced in our schools.
At a time when one out of three of our nation’s children are overweight or obese, an epidemic that already costs our nation’s economy $1.4 trillion a year, it's more important then ever to continue promoting, educating, and providing access to nutritionally superior foods that will fuel their bodies and minds.
Here are the stats since 2010:
--Over 99% of schools are meeting important portions of the standards
--86% of voters support the guidelines
--Students are eating more fruits, vegetables, and other healthy foods that help them reach their classrooms well-nourished and ready to learn.
Gourmet Gorilla understands that healthy eating habits don't happen overnight, and that education needs to take place when introducing new foods on the lunch tray in order to minimize waste. We don't want to see those veggies end up in the trash either! But a rollback is not solution.
Our standards on nutrition should be set as high as our academic standards. The USDA and Department of Education should work hand in hand on these efforts to provide kids with a healthy start. Our children deserve it.
Over the past month, the hot nutrition topic at Gourmet Gorilla has been sugar. What is sugar? What is the effect on the body? And how can we reduce it? All great questions.
There are two types of sugars that I like to focus on, natural sugar & added sugar. Natural sugar can be found in veggies, fruits, some grains, & dairy products. Added sugar includes, “any sugar or caloric sweeteners that are added to foods or beverages during processing or preparation. This includes putting sugar in your coffee or cereal. Added sugars (or sweeteners) can include natural sugars such as white sugar, brown sugar, and honey as well as other caloric sweeteners that are chemically manufactured (ex. High fructose corn syrup).” -American Heart Association
Obesity rates, especially in children, have increased tremendously over the past 25-30 years leading to the obesity epidemic. The consumption of added sugars has also skyrocketed. There is no doubt that added sugars have contributed to this epidemic. Increased added sugar consumption can also lead to type 2 diabetes, tooth decay, high triglyceride levels, and heart disease. It's a big deal. So how do we monitor our children’s consumption of added sugars? Great question!
The American Heart Association recommends that children have no more than 3 tsp (12 grams) of added sugars a day. The best place to start reducing added sugar is the nutrition label:
Does the product contain fruit, veggies, or dairy? If not, all of the sugar is added.
The ingredient list lists ingredients in descending order by weight. If one of the ingredients listed below is in the top 5 ingredients, it would be best to monitor consumption: brown sugar, corn sweetener, corn syrup, fruit juice concentrates, high-fructose corn syrup, honey, invert sugar, malt sugar, molasses, raw sugar, sugar, dextrose, fructose, glucose, lactose, maltose, sucrose, syrup, cane juice, evaporated corn sweetener, crystal dextrose, liquid fructose, and fruit nectar. Those are all “added sugars.”
Reducing added sugars in the diet can be hard, but extremely important for the health of your child. If you strive to eat more natural and whole foods and decrease processed food consumption that is a great step in the right direction.. Below are 5 common foods that are high in added sugars.
Regular soft drinks, energy drinks, & sports drinks. Fun fact: 4 grams of sugar = 1 tsp of sugar. This means a 12 oz coke which as 39 grams of sugar has over ¾ cups of added sugar!
Ice Cream & sweetened yogurts (try to find yogurt with less that 7 grams of sugar)
Store Bought Granola Bars (limit consumption of bars with lots of chocolate and peanut butter. They are amazing, but basically a snickers bar in a different package)
Condiments: Ketchup, salad dressing, bbq sauce, ranch dressing