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Healthy, Fresh, Made-From-Scratch Meals to be Served at UNI's Laboratory School
Something new will be in the air at the University of Northern Iowa's Malcolm Price Laboratory School this fall. The aroma of fresh, healthy, made-from-scratch meals from the school's kitchen will greet the students, faculty and staff each day at the Grassroots Café, which will provide food and educational experiences to enrich bodies and minds.
This new model school lunch program focuses on student health and will provide educational experiences for students and for school administrators across the state.
"As a school, Price Lab is trying to transform the food environment by exploring new ways of doing things, " said Bridgette Wagoner, interim director for PLS. "A school's food environment plays a role in setting attitudes about food and nutrition in place. It's a double standard to be adamant about daily physical education while serving kids unhealthy food."
Taking a holistic approach, the new model will connect the kids to their food and integrate food into the curriculum. A school garden, guest speakers, and new foods will be introduced to students next year along with the changes in the cafeteria.
A state-wide push for healthier food in schools, an internal push from PLS parents, and trends across the nation made now a good time to find funding and change the system at PLS, organizers said.
"The beef recall in February 2008 piqued my interest in what my kids were eating for lunch," said Christopher Martin, parent of two PLS students and a UNI associate professor of communication studies. "There were parents who had been talking about it for years, and this got things going again."
PLS Food Service Manager Rob Stanley has been developing menus and working with school officials to develop a nutritious, good-tasting menu that students will enjoy. The menus are designed to reduce the amount of high-fructose corn syrup, transfats, and artificial colors and preservatives served; to eliminate unnecessary packaging; and to support local growers and producers whenever possible.
"We don't have all the answers," Stanley said, "but what we learn from this will be documented, and the change from the old system to cooking from scratch with whole ingredients at Price Lab will help other schools."
With funding from grants, PLS will have the flexibility to develop an efficient program that other schools can tap into. The goal is to transition from grant assistance into a self-sustaining model that other schools can replicate and adapt to their needs.
The cost of lunch at Grassroots Café for 2009-2010 is $2.25 for K through sixth grade and $2.50 for seventh through 12th grade. An adult lunch costs $3.50. Families can still qualify for free or reduced lunches.
"Food is a big deal," said Kamyar Enshayan, director of UNI's Center for Energy and Environmental Education. "People across the country are pushing for schools to lead. What children eat is fundamental to their health."
UNI's CEEE staff will help connect the school to local food sources, and Stanley plans to keep the menu flexible with the seasons. Milk served at Grassroots Café will be from Hansen's Farm Fresh Dairy, about 10 miles from the school and a popular field trip destination.
"Serving healthier meals can strengthen community connections," Enshayan said. "Local farms can offer fresh, seasonal ingredients, and buying from local growers and producers strengthens the region's economy."
This project has received funding from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, the Leighty Foundation, the Iowa Department of Agriculture & Land Stewardship, UNI College of Education and the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture.
"The grants will allow development this first year and allow us to determine the most efficient ways of providing these meals," Wagoner said. "Schools across the state have the will to serve healthy meals to their students. Our hope is to help provide the way."
The W.K. Kellogg Foundation was established in 1930. The organization supports children, families and communities as they strengthen and create conditions that propel vulnerable children to achieve success as individuals and as contributors to the larger community and society. Grants are concentrated in the U.S., Latin America and the Caribbean, and the southern African countries of Botswana, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, South Africa, Swaziland and Zimbabwe. For further information, please visit the foundation's Web site at www.wkkf.org.