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EDIBLES: Kids and parents learn to love lunch

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  • | 5:00 a.m. February 8, 2012
Jennifer and Mac deCarle
Jennifer and Mac deCarle
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The deCarle family has a lot in common with many others. They are two, extremely busy, working parents with two young sons, Trey, 9 and Harry, 4. They want the best for their boys in every way.

When it comes to food, however, the deCarles have unique credentials. Mac deCarle is one of the Gulf Coast’s most highly regarded chefs; Jennifer deCarle enjoys similar stature as a catering executive. Together they own and operate deCarle Event Design.

That combination of facing the challenges of all busy parents with their unique culinary credentials has led them to start Nutrition Kitchen, an school-lunch catering service that delivers education as well as nutrition to private and charter schools in Sarasota and Manatee counties.

The DeCarles see this as an opportunity to do something to benefit children. Their website puts it bluntly: “Children are simply not getting the food to eat that they should. Childhood obesity and diabetes are at pandemic heights, and over-worked and over-stressed parents often lack either the time or skill to consistently provide healthy meals each and every day. No one would begrudge a child the occasional Happy Meal or hot dog and fries, but, rather, it is what is being consistently fed to and eaten by the child that sets them up for a lifetime of health and the joy that brings.”

The idea behind Nutrition Kitchen is to balance nutrition geared to kids with the greater purpose of exposing them to eating experiences they might not be exposed to at home.

“Food doesn’t need to be boring, bland or void of nutritional value for a child to enjoy it,” Mac DeCarle says. “The key to success is to provide food that children are familiar with but use organic, local and fresh ingredients.”

And that’s just what he puts on the menu.

Here’s how Nutrition Kitchen operates. Schools sign up to provide the service and then parents have the option to participate. They can order by the day, week or month online or on paper. Mac DeCarle goes to work at 3:30 or 4 every morning at his commissary in Lakewood Ranch, producing about 200 lunches daily. Getting them to the right schools for the right students is, Jennifer DeCarle says, “A Broadway production every day.” But by 9:30 a.m., everything is boxed and ready to leave the kitchen at 10:15 a.m.

Nutrition and quality do not necessarily cost more. A Nutrition Kitchen lunch of entrée, side dish, fruit and vegetable is $4 for pre-kindergarten to grade five and $5 for grades six through 12. For comparison, the average cost of a supermarket Lunchable is $4.69. Adult portions are available for $6. Nutrition Kitchen also offers a package of two snacks for $1.25 and the option to order a family dinner for four for $25.

The DeCarles started Nutrition Kitchen in August. It is presently offered at about a dozen schools in Sarasota and Bradenton. To investigate having your child’s school participate, ask the school administrator to contact Jennifer DeCarle at 928-7619.

The DeCarles have a special passion for teaching kids to love eating good food. Their slogan is “We Power Kids,” and their website is

“It has become a mission for us,” Jennifer DeCarle says. “Our ultimate goal is to impact as many lives as we can, mouth by mouth and child by child, taking pressure off of parents who know better and have the means but no time and lunch comes last.”

They appear to be doing that and then some. It was this report from a member of The Observer family that prompted this story:

“Every time I order a lunch for my son, I always hope he doesn’t eat it all so I get the leftovers.”



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