TRAVERSE CITY — Tyler Huffman munched on a piece of lettuce as East Middle School’s cafeteria hummed with the sound of hundreds of students chowing down on lunch.
Huffman, an eighth grader, swallowed and speared another green leaf with his fork while he considered why he bought a salad Tuesday afternoon from the school cafeteria — a food realm that until recently was dominated by deep fryers, soda pop and Doritos.
“They’re actually really good and (are) included in a meal here,” Huffman said of the salad. “It just tastes really good and it’s healthy, too.”
Traverse City Area Public Schools officials said students like Huffman are increasingly reaching for fruits and vegetables instead of chips and candy bars, indicating a district-wide push to offer more nutritious meals with an emphasis on locally-grown produce is paying off.
Tom Freitas, TCAPS’ food and nutrition services director, is leading the district’s health and nutrition charge. Freitas was hired this year from Sandusky, Ohio, where he was a statewide leader in farm-to-school food programs.
His philosophy on improving what students eat comes down to two things: nutrition and proper portion sizes. Both are part of a TCAPS’ emphasis on serving full meals at low prices.
Students must select three of five components — milk, fruit, vegetable, grain and protein — for a lunch to count as a meal. One of the three components must be either a fruit or a vegetable. Students often pay less for such a whole meal than they do for a la carte items like hamburgers.
“The idea is to get them eating a meal,” Freitas said. “We don’t want them eating a bunch of snacks.”
Food choices at East Middle School last Tuesday included Sloppy Joes, sandwiches, hamburgers, veggie burgers and two Chinese dishes. One of them, General Tso’s chicken, was a clear student favorite. The other, a tofu and veggie stir-fry, received considerably less attention.