NU lunch program aims to increase nutrition

Sara Gabriele/Staff Writer

From the economy to the environment to student health, it is no secret that this generation is inheriting a lot of problems. Amid the many proposed solutions is one that is often overlooked: improving the quality of food that is served in school lunches. At the Malcolm Price Lab School, a pilot program has been launched this year to do just that.

Stimulated by parents’ concerns, the GrassRoots Café is trying to redefine the concept of a school lunch by addressing three main things: serving healthier food, stimulating the local economy and reducing waste.

The pilot program received a grant from the Kellogg foundation which primarily funds the salaries of the two program directors, Rob Stanley and Jacque Bilyeu-Holmes, who prepare the food daily.

Among the menu items are foods typical of most school lunches, such as burritos and pizza. They differ, however, in that these meals are made from scratch with local, free range and fair trade ingredients. This eliminates many of the high fructose, high fat and preservative-laden components all too common in most cafeteria foods and that are speculated to be contributing factors to the recent obesity epidemic.

“We’re not trying to serve gourmet foodsprouts and things you’d find in a health food store. What we’re trying to do is source ingredients as locally as possible and make the food from scratch,” said Rob Stanley, program director and owner of local health store, Roots Market.

Although the price of the lunches was raised by a small amount, this has not been a deterrent to people buying lunches. The school, which lost close to $60,000 last year with their old lunch provider, saw an immediate increase in students and staff purchasing lunches.  The number of high school students, who have an option to leave during lunch because of the school’s open campus, increased from 20-30 to around 100 this year.

“I love the lunches we have at school now,” junior Leah Joslyn said. “It was hard before to eat lunch at school because the food we got was prepackaged and basically tasted like plastic, but this food actually tastes good.”

Because Stanley and Bilyeu-Holmes buy as many ingredients as possible locally, the money goes back into the local economy and to the local farmers rather than outside of the state. This also reduces the fuel and carbon dioxide emissions that result from transporting food from more distant places.
“The way the food system is set up, a lot of our food dollars end up bypassing the local food economy, and as a result, you’re seeing a loss of rural farming. As schools, we need to be aware of our surroundings,” said Kamyar Enshayan, director of the Center for Energy and Environmental Education at the University of Northern Iowa. “The logic of it is hey, we have apples in season 25 different varieties; we should be eating them.”

The benefits of the new school lunch program are not limited to buying local or serving better food. After lunches are eaten, apple cores, for example, are not simply thrown into the garbage.

The school set up a garden which provides a place for teachers in many of the elementary level classes to integrate into their curriculum the whole process.

Students plant the seeds, watch them grow, pick them, eat them in their lunches and then recycle their remains by composting.
“Schools have a responsibility to be exemplifying the best practices. We’ve taken our responsibility for math and science, for reading and sports. This is an extension of that,” Enshayan said. “Every school can examine the way they want to do things, the opportunities they want to explore. There are always fruits and vegetables nearby, little adjustments schools can make as they examine how to make their school environment healthier.”

Stanley and Bilyeu-Holmes are currently working to put all the work being done with the GrassRoots program at Price Lab into a format that can be used in other schools.

Although the program, in totality, is currently only viable for a certain number of students, they hope that other larger schools will be able to take what they’ve done and incorporate it in some way.

Class of 2014

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