Meet Jared Veldheer: Former Arizona Cardinals offensive lineman turns lunch man – Arizona Cardinals blog


Like many retired NFL players, Jared Veldheer has found a new way to spend his time.

He took up cooking, which means he spends a lot of time in a kitchen. He also now takes care of the preparation of meals and has become quite good at shopping.

But it’s not a chef, it’s a lunch at a school.

Veldheer, who has been an offensive lineman for five teams including the Arizona Cardinals in an 11-year career until 2020, is in charge of lunch for about 170 students in preschool through eighth grade. – and over 200 Taco Tuesdays – at St. Paul the Apostle School in Grand Rapids, Michigan. For four months, five days a week from 7.45 a.m. to 1.30 p.m., Veldheer has been planning, preparing and cooking an eclectic menu that is far from typical school meals: beef bulgogi, chicken tikka masala, smoked carnitas and chimichurri flank steak. The cost is $ 3.50, which leads parents to ask, “Can we come for lunch?” “

“It looks like a restaurant,” St. Paul the Apostle manager Michelle Morrow told ESPN.

Veldheer doesn’t hesitate to talk about his love of food. He developed a creativity for this when he was a child, when, if he didn’t like what his mother cooked, he had to make his own sandwiches, which led him to try new ways of stacking. bread, meat, cheese and other things. .

“I ate a lot of food,” he said. “I like a lot of different types of food.”

Now he’s using his experiences with food – including eating copious amounts of it as an offensive lineman – and using them to prepare the healthiest, most nutritious foods possible to help children grow and develop. .

“We know that a well-fed body creates the best student,” Morrow said.

How did he become the lunch man?

At the beginning of August, a few weeks before the start of the school year, Saint Paul the Apostle found himself without anyone to take care of his kitchen.

Veldheer, who as a parent of two at school had befriended Morrow and given him advice on diet and nutrition, has expressed interest in the job. He was hired after a brief conversation about what to expect when cooking lunch for a few hundred kids.

“I’ve always loved to cook,” Veldheer told ESPN. “I wasn’t sure I wanted to, you know, be the lunch lady at school, but anyway, I thought about it and thought, I was looking for something to do with my time. It’s not a bad commitment in terms of concert time. I’m with my kids. So I kind of went there.

“I wasn’t sitting around in my later years trying to get my next job as a lunch manager.”

Morrow smiled when she started talking about the sight of Veldheer, who is 6ft 8in and 321lb, serving lunch to the youngest children at school. It takes up most of the lunch window, she said.

“A picture is worth a thousand words on it,” she said. “I smile from ear to ear just imagining and seeing what I see everyday, kids looking him straight in the eye but can feel so comfortable and confident asking him questions and by trying different foods, and really figuring out what it’s doing.

“It’s just a testament to who he is as a person and to be so accessible to these young people.”

Waiting for Veldheer at school, a remodeled kitchen which he says looks like a professional space, fitted with a new stove and convection oven with French doors. He brought a Traeger grill and a Blackstone flat top from home and paired them with the one kitchen tool that has become a saving grace: the Instant Pot.

Veldheer starts cooking when he arrives at the kitchen around 7.45am. If he cooks something with beans – he only uses dry beans – or rice, he’ll put them in a pressure cooker and let them set.

“Set it up and forget it,” he said.

Then he grills the chicken for the salad bar daily and starts with the main course and sides. He has another person who has experience in a professional kitchen to help him. Depending on the complexity of the meal, Veldheer may have one or two volunteers to help, but almost always has a couple to help serve the lunch, which sees three groups lining up from 11:00 a.m. to 12:15 p.m. In total, about 170 of the more than 300 students eat Veldheer’s lunch.

“It’s a phenomenal number,” Morrow said.

‘They will never eat this’

Molly Cotter, who has three children in school, was “overwhelmingly impressed” by what Veldeer did. But she wasn’t the only one who was skeptical at first.

“When he started, and that was before school, we all had the menu, and we were like, ‘He’s going to feed our kids braised cabbage and like mashed cauliflower? They don’t. will never eat. ‘ We were like, ‘He’s crazy.’

“But I have to say, I mean, we’re more and more impressed. My kids love food.”

Veldheer has to prepare their menu about a month because the school uses an online portal that allows parents to order food about two weeks before the first day of the month. When her first menu went live, “it was a bit of a culture shock,” Morrow said. Parents, she added, were unsure of the sustainability of Veldheer’s vision, especially after years of typical school lunches of chicken nuggets, pizza and French fries.

Veldheer tries to adhere to a handful of nutritional principles, its main purpose being to “nourish developing humans”. To do this, Veldheer leans heavily on his time in the NFL, where he became interested in exercise science and nutrition.

“A lot of kids eat shit,” he said. “I think we live in a time where a lot of kids are just snacking all the time with processed crap in the closet. So it’s like I can just set a goal of giving them a nutritious meal. , so it’s good.”

Veldheer has limited or removed as much seed oils – like soybeans or corn, which he says contain polyunsaturated fatty acids and can lead to inflammation – as well as an excess of simple sugars. But he’s baking cookies once a week and has cinnamon rolls planned for the last day before winter break.

“I learned that it’s really hard – it’s almost impossible – to get all the kids to eat stuff because one kid likes one thing and the other doesn’t and they eat the other thing, so as you get the kids are really full on the main course, and then you can have some of the kids on the sides, that’s a big bonus, ”Veldheer said.

And even when kids aren’t completely enthusiastic about what they’re eating, Veldheer will help them. He wore lederhosen on a day serving German food and will play Hispanic music on Taco Tuesdays. And as if that weren’t enough, he’s known to scour the cafeteria to see if the kids like the food.

“He’ll go to the cafeteria and say, ‘Okay everyone, I want you to have a bite of these beans. I made them special for you,'” Cotter said. “And boy, they did.”

Veldheer calls work “fulfilling”, even when it receives harsh comments.

“Kindergartens are probably the most brutal,” Veldheer said. “College kids are, they’re awesome. But I’ve learned you can’t judge the meal by kindergartens or preschoolers. It would be a bad idea to leave. They’re wild cards. You never know. how they are going to respond to it. “


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