The monthly lunch rotation in the Burlington School District in Vermont includes its share of chicken patties, tacos and mac’n’cheeseâ€”just like those in K-12 school cafeterias across the U.S.
But Burlington has been able to partner those proven kid favorites with fresh, local foods and healthy products to build menus with a significantâ€”if not always obviousâ€”gain in overall nutrition. â€˜We’ve tinkered with the stuff around the edges,â€™ explains director Doug Davis. â€˜I don’t want to scare kids away from the menu.â€™
As an example, Davis says the district tries to purchase the best chicken pattie it can afford that’s low in fat and sodium-reduced.
Burlington also makes it a point to buy Vermont-grown fruits and vegetables when they’re in season.
Students take an active part in the menu, too, creating their own raspberry vinaigrette salad dressing, for example. It’s made from local raspberries, which are frozen and used throughout the school year.
Students eating the cafeteria lunch are exposed to plenty of fresh, high-quality and often locally produced foods, including a salad bar with 15-20 fresh produce items, many of which are home grown. â€˜The kids are eating so much more fruits and veggies,â€™ Davis says.
The district has participated in Farm to School for the last seven years, a community program which connects families and students with whole, fresh and local foods. Even though using fresh, local items tends to raise food costs, it can be offset by using commodity foods and commercial items over the course of the school year, Davis maintains. â€˜Our food cost averages about $1.15 per day,â€™ he says. We are very fortunate to have industry partners that create foods that can go on the tray to meet that.â€™
Burlington Food Service Chosen as a National Model
Senator Patrick Leahy recently announced that the U.S. Department of Agriculture has selected the Burlington School District as one of 15 school districts nationwide that will be visited by the USDA Farm to School Team to learn about Burlington’s Farm to School program.
The USDA Farm to School Team is comprised of both Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) and Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) staff members, and was created to support local and regional food systems by facilitating alliances between schools and their local food producers.
Burlington will be used as a national example for how Farm to School programs help to better connect children to their food and create opportunities for local farmers to provide their harvest to schools in their communities.
The USDA Farm to School Team is hoping to learn how successful Farm to School programs first began, how relationships with farmers were cultivated, what obstacles were faced, and what the effects have been in the schools and the community.
These visits are a part of Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan’s Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food initiative to create new economic opportunities for farmers and ranchers by better connecting consumers with local producers. Restoring the link between consumers and local producers brings new opportunities for farmers that help to generate wealth, keeping money in rural communities, creating a greater focus on sustainable farming practices, and helping consumers gain access to healthy, fresh, and locally grown food.
The Farm to School movement also fits into emerging strategies to counter childhood obesity, such as First Lady Michelle Obama’s Ã¢â‚¬ËœLet’s Move’ campaign, which is focused on helping kids to make smart and healthy choices in their own lives. With more than 30 percent of American children obese today, the risks to children’s health are also risks to the economy, with the billions of dollars spent each year treating obesity-related conditions like heart disease, diabetes, and cancer.
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