When Taylor Clare, a Johnson & Wales graduate, saw that her kids were eating bagged fast food every day for lunch, she decided to put her culinary skills to good use.
Her children attend Charleston Day School, one of the area's many private schools that can't accommodate a DHEC-approved cooking facility or cafeteria due to space. Because these schools have no cafeteria, they outsource food for lunch, and Clare didn't want CDS to have to go the fast food route.
"I started to see the effects at home," says Clare. "My kids no longer wanted to eat homemade food. It was branding. They were so used to seeing the Moe's or Taco Bell logo. It was like homemade food became boring."
Then, at a PTA meeting, the idea dawned on Clare to start her own on-wheels lunch service.
"I thought to myself, maybe I should be the one to feed these children," says Clare.
So she named her business Ready-to-Go Gourmet.
Clare asked Dr. Ann Kulze, a nutritionist and author of Dr. Ann's 10-Step Diet, for help developing an optimal nutritional program that was affordable and sent surveys to parents to find out what their areas of concern were. Did they want their kids eating organic meat and vegetables, or just to have fresh and balanced meals? The difficulty for Clare then became to design healthy lunches for the same price as fast food — with food children would actually eat.
Three years in, Clare now provides lunch for 100 kids at CDS. From Monday to Thursday, you can find her dressed to impress behind her lunch cart, dishing out turkey chili or egg salad sandwiches decorated with pimento olive eyes and a sweet gherkin nose. Clare encourages children to build their own salads and eat fruit cups for dessert.
"I'm not a fan of the bag lunch," says Clare, as she puts on a pink apron, decorated with pictures of tiered cakes and tea kettles. "Even when the kids don't want something in the bag, it's there, and it creates so much waste. The Ready-to-Go Gourmet style of eating empowers children to make their own choices — healthy choices — given their options. They ask themselves 'How hungry am I? Do I want a salad and Sun Chips?"
And besides nourishment, Clare's main incentive is to empower children to make decisions about what and how much food they choose to put in their body at an early age.
Brendan O'Shea, headmaster of Charleston Day School, thinks Clare's presence on campus also reminds faculty to be more conscious about the food they serve at after-school programs: banana bread vs. donuts; animal crackers instead of Oreos.
"Kids see other kids eating vegetables and they become conditioned to like them more," says O'Shea.
Good eating habits start as simple as that. Monkey see. Monkey do.