Joliet Junior College culinary arts chair Michael McGreal makes salsa for fourth-graders Friday at Taft School in Joliet. McGreal was the school's principal for a day. | Tina Akouris~Sun-Times Media
Updated: January 9, 2014 6:35AM
It isn’t every day that students at Taft Elementary School in Joliet can smell fresh cilantro and red onions wafting through their hallways.
But that was the case Friday when Michael McGreal, Joliet Junior College’s culinary arts chair, spent a few hours at the school making fresh salsa for students and faculty.
McGreal was the Principal for a Day at Taft, one of 21 community leaders from Joliet who participated in the Joliet Public Schools District 86 program.
This is the 10th anniversary of the Principal for a Day event.
Other “principals” included Will County State’s Attorney Jim Glasgow (Cunningham School), Joliet City Council member Jim McFarland (Keith), Joliet Police Capt. Tab Jensen (Singleton) and Joliet Fire Department Cmdr. Joe Formhals (Thigpen).
McGreal put his culinary skills to work during a cooking demonstration during which he made two types of salsa for third- and fourth-graders.
McGreal said he picked salsa for his demo not only to show students different ways to use fresh vegetables in their diet, but also to show them something that they easily can make at home.
“When they see all the different colors in foods, I want them to think that not only could they be pretty but also that green things aren’t bad,” McGreal said. “I used a lot of green and black and yellow (foods for the salsas), and those are things that might not be normal food colors for them.
“I want them to see that it’s OK to try foods from all different color groups, and that means they may try a lot of different vegetables and fruits.”
It was also in line with McGreal’s side job of helping first lady Michelle Obama with her “Let’s Move!” crusade to get kids eating healthier foods.
McGreal, a professional chef for 30 years, said he is involved with Obama’s healthy lifestyle initiative to get more nutritious foods into school cafeterias and children’s diets. He goes to the White House for meetings with Obama and her staff every five to six weeks. McGreal is the central U.S. liaison for the American Culinary Federation’s arm of the “Let’s Move!” campaign.
“We are trying to have community outreach events and work with school districts to have healthy alternatives in the cafeterias,” McGreal said. “And I’m working as a consultant for the (U.S. Culinary Association’s) Center for Nutrition, where we are trying to think of bringing food service staff out to the Center for Nutrition and teaching them cooking methods.”
Taft Principal Joy Hopkins said just because there’s a Principal for a Day, she doesn’t get the day off — and she likes it that way.
“I’ve had a lawyer and a police chief here and that (exposure) gives them a chance to hear what they can go do (in the future),” Hopkins said. “You learn something every time. It’s always something for the kids and we try to expose them to different activities. And (the community leaders) can get a different perspective on what a school does.”