Traverse City Record-Eagle

Business

April 20, 2013

Ag Forum: School a place to enjoy local foods

A recent overhaul of the federal nutrition rules for schools is meant to provide healthier options for children.

But the new requirements — including larger servings of fruits and vegetables that local farmers could grow, less sodium and fat, and more whole grains — have sparked a heated debate nationally and right here in Traverse City. A significant number of older students are unhappy with some of the changes to their lunch menus.

Several weeks ago, UpNorth TV’s CrossTalk North program featured a debate between a high school student and a school’s athletic director on the impact and merits of the changes. As a FoodCorps Service Member working through the nonprofit Michigan Land Use Institute, I took a real interest in this public conversation because I straddle both the world of food service professionals and students. I teach elementary school students where food comes from through hands-on cooking and gardening activities.

I know that kids can love healthy foods, especially when it’s flavorful and fresh from the garden or local farms. When students have the opportunity to grow and harvest spinach for the salad bar or make farm-fresh salsa, they are excited to eat it.

When I coordinate lunchroom taste tests of local vegetables, I ask students to vote whether they “tried it,” “liked it” or “loved it.” Because kids want to cast a vote, they are more likely to try the new food — and more often than not surprised by how much they like it. These strategies work because kids feel invested and connected to their school food.

I facilitated a discussion at the recent Farm Routes to Prosperity Summit, held by the Northwest Michigan Food & Farming Network, around the question: “How can we make schools a place where students enjoy fresh, local foods?” Gary Derrigan, the food service director of TCAPS, said we need to start young.

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