Food services increasing efforts to freshen up lunches

Published 8:00 am Tuesday, May 5, 2015

While it may not be the type of classroom children are used to, the cafeterias inside each of the Dowagiac Union Schools’ buildings have become a place of learning for many students.

Instead of lessons about arithmetic, English or science, food services director Deb Cahill and her staff are teaching students about how incorporating fresh fruits and vegetables into their diets will improve not only the quality of their lunches, but of their health as well.

“While what they eat at home is their parents’ business, when they are here at school I want them to eat healthy,” Cahill said.

This month, food services is partnering with Niles’ Shelton’s Farm Market to offer elementary students an A-Z salad bar, which will feature a variety of different fruits and veggies they can use to spruce up their meals. This Thursday, the cafeteria will be offering letters A-G: fresh apples, blueberries, carrots, d’anjou pears, English cucumbers, fennel, and grapes.

“It’s a fun way to get kids to try something different they may have never tried before,” Cahill said.

The program, which is funded by the district’s food vendor, Soldexo, is the latest way that Cahill and her staff are encouraging the district’s students to eat more produce during meals.

Last year, the district began using fresh, locally sourced fruits and vegetables to stock its cafeterias, Cahill said. Switching vendors from Gordon’s Food Services to Shelton’s Farms, the district is now receiving shipments of apples, salad greens, tomatoes and other produce that comes from the surrounding region.

“Being such a good, strong farming area, one of the goals I had was to begin to use stuff that was grown more locally,” she said.

Cahill has also begun to find ways of expanding the students’ palettes by periodically offering tastings of recipes using some more exotic plants, like squashes or zucchini, Cahill said.

“You’d be surprised at the number of kids who come up for seconds,” she said.