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Why Grand Rapids Public Schools parents should give school lunch a chance

GRPS school meals are usually healthier that lunches from home
GRPS students celebrating Michigan asparagus on the menu

GRPS students celebrating Michigan asparagus on the menu /Kendra Wills

GRPS school meals offer a variety of Michigan fruits and vegetables.

All GRPS students eat school meals for free - breakfast and lunch - no matter what their income level.

For the past four years, I have volunteered as a Healthy Eating Coach at GRPS’ Congress Elementary. My job was to encourage students to try the fruits and vegetables served as part of the school lunch program. Most students willingly tried foods like: baja black bean salad, ratatouille made with summer squash, zucchini and eggplant, and cauliflower – which we called snowballs.

The quality of these vegetable dishes is surprisingly high. GRPS is fortunate enough to have a central kitchen where a trained culinary staff combines fresh fruits and vegetables with low sodium spice mixes. GRPS also prides itself on the amount of locally grown produce it serves through food distributors like Pearson Foods, Gordon Food Service, Country Dairy and Cherry Capital Foods. Personally, I am extremely proud of this because I have worked with GRPS on their local sourcing and purchasing data tracking through the Cultivate Michigan campaign. As a Community Food Systems Educator with Michigan State University Extension, I work across west Michigan foster and sustain farm to school programs.

You can find the 2016-17 GRPS school meals menu for September online now, which features tomatoes and whole grains as the foods of the month. GRPS is featuring their fresh salsa and fiesta black beans, both made up of locally grown vegetables, on September 28. Michigan apples can also be found on the menu several times this month. Some other fresh fruits include cantaloupe slices and watermelon. I don’t ever remember those being served when I was in school.

All GRPS students eat school meals for free because the district has a large population of families that qualify for free/reduced meals. So it doesn’t matter if you don’t qualify, your child eats school meals for free – breakfast and lunch – if they attend a GRPS school.

Many parents feel that school lunches aren’t healthy. They don’t want their child eating chicken nuggets and pizza every day, and that is understandable. What many parents don’t realize is that school meals are regulated by strict standards that limit calories, fat and sodium. Lunches from home containing processed lunchmeat, potato chips, soda or juice are often much higher in calories, sugar, fat and sodium than school meals.

So why not give school meals a chance? It is free and quite often you will find many healthy, local fruits and vegetables on the menu - which is great for local farmers and kids!

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