Pizza, sloppy joes, and a tiny serving of overcooked green beans. Yum?
This is standard school lunch fare—not high quality, not particularly nutritious, but appealing enough for all the picky eaters. For a long time, school lunch programs have taken the easy way out by providing junk foods that kids will like. This is no longer acceptable, because 23.1% of Minnesota children are overweight or obese. It’s a problem that we can’t ignore any more—and thankfully, not everyone is. Let’s highlight a few of the programs that are tackling nutrition in Minnesota schools:
- Great Trays Partnership: Run by the Minnesota Department of Health, this program provides the information, tools, and resources that schools need to be able to meet the USDA’s recommendations for nutritious school lunches. The Partnership holds workshops for districts looking to improve their lunch programs, and so far, representatives from 75% of the eligible districts have attended. 109 school districts have come together to create the Minnesota School Food Buying Group, a cooperative that buys affordable, nutritious foods for school lunches.
- Farm2School: Farm to school programs partner schools with local farmers to provide students with healthy, locally grown fruits and veggies. What started in 10 districts in 2006 has grown to include 811 schools in 123 districts as of 2010. Everybody wins – kids get healthy food and a chance to learn about local food production, and farmers get market opportunities by selling crops to school districts. The program reported positive or very positive feedback from 66% of students involved. Minnesota is home to one of the top ten farm to school programs – the F2S program at Native Harvest on White Earth.
- Let’s Move Salad Bars to Schools: Part of Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move! project, Salad Bars to Schools is an initiative to put a free salad bar in any school that wants one. Salad bars have been shown not only to make fresh fruits and veggies available to students, but also to reduce waste. That’s because when students serve themselves, they are more likely to take just as much as they’ll eat.
It’s great that programs like these are serving Minnesota’s students, but there’s so much more to be done. Kids at plenty of schools are purchasing sugary sodas and French fries every day. It’s our job to make sure students are getting the nutrients they need as well as learning healthy habits for the future. Expanding programs like the ones above and eliminating high fat, high sugar options from school food programs should be Minnesota’s priority.