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Partnership seeks to build “adventurous eaters” through more healthy, homemade school meals

Thursday, Nov. 1, 2018 — The shift has been gradual, but the move toward more scratch-made foods and healthy options is becoming more common in the cafeterias of South St. Paul Public Schools (SSPPS). As part of a multi-year effort in partnership with the Minnesota School Food Initiative, the SSPPS’s Nutrition Services Department has focused on creative ways to not only bring healthier meal options to students, but also to help teach students how to make healthier choices that will impact them long-term. As part of this initiative, SSPPS staff are receiving training and resources through a partnership with the Chef Ann Foundation and the Life Time Foundation, which in turn will help SSPPS maximize the nutrition of the food it serves, remove potentially harmful ingredients, and make meals that students love.

Kids at salad bar When asked why this initiative was important for SSPPS, Director of Food Service Glen Ritter noted that it was simply the right thing to do. “In this country, we see a large number of medical issues that are related to poor eating habits,” he said. “We know that people can't learn or perform to their maximum potential without giving their whole body the right fuel, this applies to students and adults alike.”

In October, Director of Food Service Glen Ritter, and Dorie Pavel, assistant director of food service, attended the Chef Ann Foundation’s Get Schools Cooking Workshop in Boulder, Colorado, where they learned strategies for transitioning food service operations to produce healthier school meals. They also toured and met with representatives from Boulder Valley School District, which had made the transition and is seeing positive results. Recently,  representatives from the Chef Ann Foundation recently visited SSPPS to observe its food service’s daily operations in order to make recommendations for improvements. Chef Ann Foundation staff will continue to help the food service department plan for and move forward with its transition to healthier meals over the next few years. After the district develops an action plan for its transition, Ritter said the district plans to apply for a one-time, $50,000 systems assistance grant from the Chef Ann Foundation to assist with the transformation.

In addition to looking at operational improvements, the initiative also brings SSPPS together with the Life Time Foundation to focus on removing ingredients identified as “The Harmful 7” (i.e., trans fats and hydrogenated oils, high-fructose corn syrup, hormones and antibiotics, processed and artificial sweeteners, artificial colors and flavors, artificial preservatives, and bleached flour) from school meals in an effort to better nourish every student’s body and brain. The goal is for SSPPS to work with Life Time to reduce, if not eliminate, The Harmful 7 ingredients in its meals. 

Ritter said he expects the complete transformation to take a total of four years, but that gradual modifications are already underway, allowing students to adjust to new recipes, offer feedback, and grow into the healthier menu. And while a key outcome of the initiative is a more sustainable, healthier food service operation, that is not his ultimate end goal.

“My goal is to create a culture of adventurous eaters in South St. Paul where lifelong proper eating habits will be developed and cultivated every day within our school meal program, which will then carry on with the students throughout their lifetime.”

For more information about the SSPPS Nutrition Services Program, visit www.sspps.org/nutritionservices.