Bastrop ISD is partnering with TAHER Inc.’s chef-driven food program to provide students with quality, culturally diverse food.

Celebrity chef John Sugimura of Morimoto's Sushi Master fed students at Cedar Creek High School Sept. 20 as part of TAHER's culinary and culture class. Sugimura’s visit was the final stop on his tour around Bastrop ISD middle, intermediate and high schools.

According to Sugimura, part of his goal is to prevent students from feeling marginalized.

“These kids, particularly low-income kids, particularly kids that live outside of main cities—they might see a more limited world,” Sugimura said. “That's why it's important to be able to talk to them and show them something different so that their differences seem more normal.”

Students took part in preparing and tasting handmade Gyoza, or Japanese dumplings, which is an example of the program's featured meals inspired by cultures around the world.

“[The food] was really good,” sophomore Emmely Ramirez said. “I don’t really cook like that, and I enjoyed it. Plus, learning about a different culture’s food—I love doing that.”

According to Sugimura, nearly 100% of students participated in lunches around the school district.

“It's striking that when you present the kids with something interesting ... and it has a story that's authentic, just open their world, it really presents an opportunity for participation.”

A nutritional choice

According to Sugimura, the program’s Japanese recipes are below the USDA requirements for sodium and are high in protein.

“I'm proud that I can give these kids something that their body will receive nutrition from,” Sugimura said. “When you're in a school district, most of the recipes have to be modified so that they're compliant with the standards. Not Japanese [food] ..., we use less sodium, more vegetables, more meat.... They’re the perfect recipes for USDA programs.”

According to the Sept. 19 school board meeting nutrition report, an average 3,200 more meals are being served to BISD students per day in 2023 than in 2022.

“Not all districts understand this,” Sugimura said. “To the superintendent and board of trustees’ credit ... they really do value nutrition and using food as a tool to serve these kids well because they deserve nothing less.”