Composting in our kitchen!

Composting is a process by which food and yard waste are transformed into an organic compound that can be used to fertilize and supplement soil for growing plants. Food scraps account for a large portion of waste that goes to landfills. 

You can learn more about New York's composting initiative here.  

Lenox Hill Neighborhood House is part of a composting pilot program with the city's Department of Sanitation that is working with institutions to see how composting can work at a large scale. We have eleven bins, pictured below, which are filled three times a week and picked up by the city. The bins are filled with only fruit and vegetable scraps as this inititaive is focused on waste from produce. We will them up very quickly with the scraps from all the fresh food we are serving! 

Rice: Many Choices and Many Prices

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Choosing rice can seem like a straightforward decision. What is offered by your vendor? What is easiest to prepare? While these are important questions to ask, there are many other factors that you can consider when selecting which rice is best for your recipe. We use a couple of different types of rice depending on the dish. Generally we use a parboiled brown rice, or rice that is partially cooked and then dried again, in recipes that include rice. Brown rice can take 45 minutes to an hour to cook, but parboiled rice cuts down the cooking time significantly. We like to mix brown rice with some other grains to add texture and different nutrients. The other rice we use most often is organic brown basmati. Basmati is fragrant rice and goes well with our curries.

Something to keep in mind when selecting which rice to use is that they are not all priced equally. In our cost analysis we found that the pearled barley, wheat berries, oats, and polenta we purchase are cheaper than parboiled brown rice. This means that we can diversify our grains and save money. There are many other rice options available at affordable prices – we encourage you to research which would best fit the needs of your organization!

Transforming Food Waste: Broccoli Stems


One of the first produce items we switched over to fresh when we began our kitchen transformation was broccoli. We had to spend a great deal of time thinking about each of the steps that were involved in preparing fresh broccoli from cleaning, cutting, boiling, draining, all the way to serving. Frozen broccoli is consistently packaged in even sized florets, but fresh broccoli can have much more variation in portion size. We serve our broccoli with a large portion of stem, but when we are preparing to cook it we still cut off a lot of stem. Instead of putting the broccoli stems in the compost we try to use them in other areas of our menus because it is such a nutritious vegetable. Adding stems to soup, shredding them into salads, and mixing them into vegetable lasagna are all common options. Check out some of the New York Times Recipes; especially try their variation on coleslaw with broccoli stems and red peppers.

Swapping Grains

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Cooks can hesitate to substitute ingredients in their recipes for fear that their meals will turn out badly, but swapping out ingredients can often lead to new, exciting and nutritious alternatives to everyday meals! There is plenty of room for creative adaptation when cooking.  We vary the grains that we use in our menus to include more nutrient dense grains and diversify what we serve. A secret to our grain recipes is that many different kinds of grains can be mixed and served together! If you work with picky-eaters who don't like a particular grain, you can substitute another while still sticking with the rest of the recipe. Also, when you introduce a new grain try incorporating only 25% of the new grain into a rice or other familiar grain, and then increase it over time.  As we transition into fall, try switching up your grains for a hearty, healthy alternative.

Reimagining Salad for Winter

While salad is a broad category from potato to shrimp, the image often associated with salad made in industrial kitchens can be dull with iceberg lettuce and tomatoes. Fall is a great time to revamp your salad menu and get inspired by all the plentiful, seasonal vegetables. We emphasize having a few different salads on the menu several times a week. Use this harvest chart made by the New York State Department of Agriculture to get inspired by in season vegetables. For instance shred Brussels Sprouts, broccoli stems, beets, and other colorful vegetables to add flavor, nutrients and texture to your offerings. 

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Pumpkins and Spices: Pumpkin Soup and its Medicinal Herbs

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We're bubbling with excitement that it's pumpkin season! While pumpkins are mainly known as making delicious desserts, they also make incredible savory dishes. This aromatic pumpkin soup is chock-full of spices that are known to have medicinal uses as well. Cinnamon, ginger, clove and nutmeg are thought to have anti-inflammatory, analgesic and anti-fungal properties among others. To read more about the link between nutrition and medicine start here

Curried Pumpkin Soup

(Adapted from a Maya Sozer recipe at Dreamy Leaf)


Makes 3-4 Servings


2 tbps olive oil

1 medium onion, chopped

2 garlic cloves, minced

½ tbps ginger, grated

2 tsp curry powder

2 tbsp cinnamon

1 tsp nutmeg

Salt to taste

2 tbsp maple syrup

3 cups pumpkin puree, fresh or from canned

1 cup vegetable stock

½ cup coconut cream or coconut milk

Black pepper


Heat oil in a pot over medium-high heat. Add the onion and cook for about 5-6 minutes. Add the garlic and ginger, stir and cook for another minute. Add the curry powder, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt. Add the pumpkin puree maple syrup and vegetable stock. Stir and bring to a boil. Add the coconut cream and black pepper. Optionally serve with pumpkin seeds.

Transforming Food Waste: Banana French Toast

Transforming food waste into creative new meals can have multiple benefits for a kitchen: reducing cost, eliminating garbage and compost, adding more nutrients to dishes, and  'sneaking' fruits and vegetables into recipes. 

We will be sharing a series of blog posts with our online community that highlight some of the ways we transform our food waste. First up is our delicious Banana French Toast recipe that re-purposes over-ripened bananas and stale bread.  Our clients love our french toast and it's a great way for us to use up ingredients in our kitchen. While our bananas are eaten up quickly by our clients, we still usually have some leftover. Instead of throwing them away, we love to use them in this recipe! 


Banana French Toast


Serves 100


100 slices of bread (we only use multigrain) 

45 eggs

12 cups milk

½ box brown sugar

6 tbsp Cinnamon

4 tbsp Vanilla

¼ cup oil for greasing pans or Pam spray

12 or more over ripe bananas


Preheat oven to 350 degrees. 

Combine eggs, milk, brown sugar, cinnamon, mashed overripe bananas, and vanilla.   Dip bread into egg mixture and let it sit for long enough to absorb some of the mixture.  Lay bread slices onto greased sheet pans.  Put into hot oven for 15 to 20 minutes.  Remove and keep warm in 200 degree oven.  Serve hot with jam or jelly (or cooked sliced fresh, leftover, apples, if not using bananas). 

Healthy Homemade Snack Workshop

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We welcomed graduates and prospective attendees of The Teaching Kitchen at Lenox Hill Neighborhood House back to the kitchen this week for our Healthy Homemade Snacks Workshop. Teaching Kitchen Chef Lynn Loflin taught the session, where attendees learned how to include nutritionally dense foods in snacks, discussed how to serve affordably nutritious snacks to their clients and worked together to make alternative options for popular, but often unhealthy, snack foods. Recipes included black bean quesadillas on whole wheat tortillas, sweet potato fries with yogurt ranch dressing, black bean dip, carrot cake oatmeal cookies and whole wheat English muffin pizza with vegetables and marinara. 

This workshop was part of our series we are offering. Reception to our workshops has been phenomenal and include wait lists, so make sure to sign up quickly when you receive an invitation to our next workshop focusing on holiday baking! 

End of Summer's Bounty

Summer squash - including zucchini and yellow squash - is plentiful right now, but it's easy to run out of ideas for what to make with it. Instead of trying another zucchini bread recipe or trying to hide the squash in baked goods, test what one of our Early Childhood Center cooks whipped up...

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees, cut the squash into bite-sized pieces, toss the squash in a small amount of vegetable oil and bake for 30 or 40 minutes. You're welcome to adjust the seasoning and incorporate spices to taste. The children in our program love this recipe because the squash loses its watery quality and gains a level of sweetness.

Hopefully this simple recipe will help you use up leftover squash that might be in your walk-in and introduce squash in a bright, straightforward way!

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Fresh Taste for Seniors- A Cooking Demo

This past spring the Hunter College Food Policy Center asked me to be the professional chef for the Fresh Taste for Seniors video series. This series was designed to train Hunter's nutrition students to conduct cooking demonstration for seniors in East Harlem. These videos are a great resource and can be used by anyone who works with seniors. Along with the videos, are six inexpensive and healthy recipes that can be used year-round; nutritional information; guidelines; equipment and tips. 

A Delicious Way to Keep Hydrated

It's easy to say that keeping hydrated in the summer is important, but putting that into practice and making healthy decisions about what to drink is harder. Over the last six years, we have encouraged a healthy diet by eliminating juice from our menus. Getting rid of our juice was a contentious issue; our Head Start and RealArts After School children and our older adult clients were resistant to the change. But Juice, even 100% juice, has a lot of sugar in it. Fortunately for everyone, there is a middle ground between juice and water! Fruit or vegetable infused water can alleviate the desire for a flavored beverage, help your clients transition juice out of their diets, and repurpose juiced citrus or other rinds and peels. 

Infused water is incredibly easy to make - just add the fruit, rinds or peels to the water and let it steep overnight in the refrigerator. There are special pitchers that have a strainer so the fruit doesn't get poured into glasses, but this isn't a necessary expense. 

Potential additives: lemon, orange and lime peels and rinds; cucumber slices or peels; any cut up berries or stone fruit. 

Have fun experimenting with water! 

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Cooking with Less Sugar and Salt

Salt and sugar are often what our taste buds are attracted to most!  In the past, our kitchens at Lenox Hill Neighborhood House used lots of “Chicken Base” to enhance flavor, but it is expensive and unhealthy as it is made mostly of salt. 

Over the last 6 years, we have cut out chicken base entirely and have replaced with lemon juice and lemon zest along with fresh and dried herbs to add and enhance flavors. When choosing whether to opt for dried herbs over fresh herbs, we recommend using fresh parsley, cilantro and basil over their dried counterparts because the taste, texture and color is substantially better.  

For sugar substitutes, we use honey, molasses, orange juice or apple sauce in place of white sugar. These sweeteners are less refined, have nutrients and are great for adding and enhancing flavors.  Try some of these substitutes in your favorite recipes!

Remember, if you are cooking for young children, you are developing their taste buds.  If you put too much salt or sugar in the food, they will crave this in their diet for the rest of their lives.  It is a big responsibility!

Cool Rice for the Summer

While reading up on nutritional info about various grains for our recent Grains Workshop, I stumbled on some interesting research. It indicates that grains, particularly rice, when cooked and then cooled might have less calories than the HOT versions. The grains would also be lower on the Glycemic Index, a scale that measures how a food affects your blood sugar. 

Summer is here, so it's a great time for making chilled whole grain salads.  We have just added a tasty recipe for Brown Rice Greek Salad to our Recipe Page

Beating the Heat with Summer Meals

Cooking in the summer can be wonderful with a bounty of fruits and vegetables at their peak ripeness. Unfortunately, the heat can make it so you don't want to go near your oven and stove. We're here to help you make delicious meals no matter the temperature. Here are some ideas: 

  • Cook chicken breast the day before, shred it, and make a chicken salad with various vegetables and a sauce using light mayo. 
  • Incorporate beans into a classic salad of lettuce, tomato and carrots for protein and added crunch. 
  • Make a bean dip for a quick snack. Puree white beans with garlic and parsley; black beans with cumin, garlic powder and chili power; or chickpeas with garlic and lemon to make hummus. 
  • Make a cold soup like a gazpacho. Puree tomatoes, cucumbers, olive oil, vinegar and some garlic for a refreshing tomato soup. 
  • Create different variations of coleslaw with apples, red cabbage and vinegar instead of mayo. 
  • Try any of the grain salads from our grain workshop
  • Check out our salad section on the recipe page for more ideas. 

Achieving Goals with BronxWorks

I visited two of BronxWorks' sites this week: the Living Room, their 24-hour drop in center, and Safe Haven their homeless shelter for men. I'm thrilled to share that that they have met all of their original three goals! 

Their goals were to work with their vendor to find prepared items with less salt, to add fresh broccoli to their menu and to improve their culinary skills- particularly with knives since they'll be preparing more fresh vegetables. 

After our time working in the kitchen we went to the community garden to collect fresh herbs. The cooks were very excited to make salad dressing with hyper local ingredients.

The staff has been working incredibly hard to serve more fresh and healthier food to their clients.  They're planning on attending our future workshops to continue their work. Now that they've met their goals, they're going to move forward with new goals. Our mantra here is in order to make change do small, achievable actions. 

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Our Growing Garden

Thanks to the summer weather our green roof is flourishing! We're growing parsley, spearmint, sweet basil, cilantro, oregano, sage, garlic, and rosemary. Try incorporating some more herbs into light, healthy salads. Our healthy ranch recipe, is the perfect accompaniment! 


Healthy Ranch Dressing

Makes about 4 quarts or 1 gallon


7 cups non-fat yogurt

5 cups buttermilk or 1 % milk with 3 tbsp lemon juice

1.5 cups light mayonnaise

1/3 cup lemon juice


¼ cup Dijon mustard

5 tbsp Onion Powder

3 tbsp Garlic Powder

3 tbsp Salt

1 cup chopped parsley, chives, or scallions


Mix all ingredients well. Refrigerate. If using 1% milk with lemon juice, let the mixture sit separately for 20 minutes in a warm place, before adding all other ingredients.

Meet Our Newest Summer Cohort

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We were so thrilled to spend time with and learn from so many wonderful organizations at The Teaching Kitchen this week!  A big thanks to Brooklyn Community Services, Brooklyn Kindergarten Society and Fort Greene Senior Citizens Council for their enthusiasm and participation in our training course. We had a blast sharing snack ideas, discussing clients' favorite meals and brainstorming manageable ways to introduce healthier foods into our menus. We also had the great pleasure of welcoming staff from the New York Health Foundation and the Bedford Stuyvesant Restoration Corporation Center for Healthy Neighborhoods to participate in and witness our program in action. 

Summer Snacks!

Our summer camp started this week, so we have a lot of kids in the building to feed. We are always looking for healthy snacks for both the kids and the seniors. One recipe that we use over and over that's a favorite is our hummus. This is a great healthy alternative to store bought snacks, which are often loaded with sugar and salt. Even better -- our homemade hummus is cheap and easy to make! When making the hummus you can add leftover vegetables you've had during the week to add additional nutrients. Including beets or red peppers can make the hummus pink or red, and what kid doesn't love pink food? This hummus can be served with whole wheat pita, crackers or raw veggies for dipping. To make a more substantial snack, layer the hummus into a whole wheat tortilla and layer on lettuce, cucumbers, tomatoes, shredded carrots or any vegetables that your kids love. 

Hummus Recipe 

Snack for 40 or 50 adults or kids


1 #10 can chickpeas, drained and rinsed well

Juice of 4 lemons or ½ cup bottled real lemon juice

2 Tbsp cumin

2 Tbsp chopped garlic

1 Tbsp salt

1 cup vegetable oil

1 cup water


*If using leftover vegetables add about 1 cup cooked carrots, beets, or winter squash.

Drain and rinse chickpeas.  May need to make in two batches in a Food Processor/ Cuisinart. Put half the drained chickpeas into the Cuisinart.  Juice lemons and add to Cuisinart bowl.  Add all other ingredients and pulse until totally pureed.  Add other half of chickpeas with some of the 1st batch and puree.  Add “leftover” vegetables if using.  Mix both batches together and combine well.  Refrigerate.

Add other spices or herbs and increase or decrease the garlic to taste. 

Learning and Teaching with Childcare Organizations

We had such a great time meeting the impressive women who feed children at Community Life Center, East Harlem Block Nursery and Citizen's Care Day Care. Not only did we explore our rooftop garden, but we also chatted with our kitchen staff about their experience, talked about the best things to serve in the summer heat and discussed how to make the most of fresh food with small storage spaces. Thank you for sharing your experience with us!  

Creating a Culturally Friendly Menu

By: Janice Lai, Nutrition Intern

Recently at Lenox Hill Neighborhood House, we’ve seen an increase in the number of Chinese-speaking clients in our Innovative Senior Center, and it’s a priority for us to better meet their needs. We’re facing two big challenges: one is language – how to better communicate with all of our members, and the other is how to meet their cultural and nutritional needs. One of our Nutrition Interns, Janice Lai, had some suggestions.  


As a nutrition student originally from Hong Kong, I am aware of the food culture differences between the U.S. and China that can make it difficult for some Chinese immigrants to enjoy American food.

Here are some ideas from Chinese food culture to make your menu friendlier to these clients:

·       Include ingredients such as bok choy, tofu, pork and rice.

·       Use miso, soy sauce and sesame paste to make a great marinade. You can also replace salt                  with ginger, scallions and garlic.

·       Serve cooked leafy vegetables, root vegetables and green beans. Raw salads are not common             in the Chinese culture


Here's a recipe we serve at our sites that's a hit. 

Baked Sesame Tofu

4 to 5 servings


16 ounces firm tofu, cut into ¾ inch slices

2 tbsp sesame oil

2 tbsp soy sauce

1 tbsp rice wine vinegar

2 tsp honey or maple syrup

1 clove garlic, minced


Preheat oven to 400 ˚F.  Spray baking sheet with nonstick cooking spray or oil. Slice tofu.  Pat tofu dry with paper towel or clean dish cloth.  Combine all other ingredients in a bowl and whisk well.  Toss tofu in marinade to fully cover all pieces. Place on non-stick baking pan and cook for 25 to 30 minutes, turning each piece at 15 minutes to brown on other side.

Tofu can be used in a stir fry with broccoli, snow peas, carrots, etc. It also makes a great low calorie snack or can be used in a sandwich or wrap with lettuce, grated carrots, and sliced red pepper. 

Nutritional information:  Tofu is a good source of protein, calcium, iron, and minerals.  It also contains all eight amino acids.