Creating Sustainable School Meal Menus

Posted by Patrick Maness +

Creating Sustainable School Meal Menus

There is no shortage of studies pointing to the inescapable fact that kids need to eat healthier, more nutritious meals at school. But how can schools transform this knowledge, the many voices of concerned parents and nutritionists, into healthy meals?

One way many schools are doing this is by turning to the natural ally of the healthy-food movement — food sustainability. 

A sustainable example 

One of the most impressive sustainability programs is the Burlington School Food Project, a collaborative effort between several non-profits and the Burlington school district in Vermont.

The program works through a partnership with a number of community organizations and local farms to provide students in 13 different schools, from kindergarten through 12th grade, with a variety of fresh, locally grown fruits, vegetables, grains and meats. Currently, anywhere from 20–33 percent of the food served in these schools is locally sourced and produced in the state of Vermont.

In addition to feeding students, the program provides them an opportunity to work in one of the several educational gardens where they can learn about the growing cycle, how to care for the soil, tend a garden, and more — all through hands-on experience.

Connecting kids with the food they eat, in addition to working with a network of local food growers, is part of the Farm to School initiative that is gaining popularity throughout school districts. In fact, over 42,000 schools currently participate in some sort of Farm to School activity.

The practicality of healthy school lunches

Many worry that providing fresh vegetables and locally sourced food will result in increased meal prices for students and tax payers. There is indeed a perception that such food is available only to those who have the necessary financial resources to afford them. “Local” and “sustainable” are often seen as luxuries available to just a select few.

However, as hundreds of Farm to Table programs across the county have demonstrated, providing quality, nutritious food makes financial sense as well.

In the Burlington area, the food in their program costs, on average, $1.41 per meal. Most importantly, many students who eat for free or at a reduced price are able to benefit from this kind of program.

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