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Healthy School Meals in Uncertain Times

Montague Area Public Schools, Michigan

potato digging

Despite the many challenges that came with the pandemic and other events leading to increased costs and supply chain disruptions, Montague Area Public Schools in Michigan found stability for their nutrition department by providing free school meals through the Community Eligibility Provision and capitalizing on local foods and its well-established Farm to School education programming to keep kids coming back for more.

School meals and nutrition education are not just boxes to check for the district’s 1,400 students - they’re an integral part of the school day. For years, Montague Area Public Schools have educated their students on the importance of consuming healthy, local foods using the Farm to School Program, school gardens, trips to a local farm, and a partnership with Cultivate Michigan and their regional technical school’s hospitality program. Together, these student engagement opportunities create a consistent vision around providing healthy and local foods to Montague students, resulting in a robust school nutrition experience that the whole community - parents, educators and students alike - are excited to be a part of.

Farm to School programming and sourcing local foods are crucial to providing healthy and appealing meals to students and ensuring that kids are exposed to a wide array of foods. For elementary students, school gardens, as well as field trips to a local farm made possible by the Farm to School Program, provide a solid starting point for developing healthy eating habits, a willingness to try new foods and an excellent opportunity to educate students on local Michigan foods.

Further, the Cultivate Michigan partnership with the regional technical schools’ hospitality program provides high school students with opportunities to create school meals using local products, down to recipe formulation, facilitating taste tests, and marketing the new menu items to students. The program not only fulfills a part of the student curriculum, but the lessons learned from organizing and preparing 2,000 samples for a taste test goes far beyond the classroom-- it prepares students for the realities of hospitality service after graduation.

Food service director Daniel Gorman believes the key to cultivating lifelong healthy eaters is to ensure students are healthier because they participate in school meals and they build a positive relationship with food. It is his job to provide the expertise and platform so that educators and community members can support where they can, and Daniel points to working closely with teachers as a critical step to building sustainable Farm to School programming. Teachers need to be able to directly tie what kids learn in Farm to School programs to the curriculum, and once that is built in, teachers are not only enthusiastic to participate, but they also take these projects on as their own.

As Daniel reflected on his work, he concluded that his food service department rarely works alone and it’s the collaboration with the community, educators and students that kept school meal participation strong despite the many unknowns of the last few years. But don’t just take it from us - check out Montague Area Public Schools’ YouTube video showcasing their amazing programs from the 2022 fall season.

Page updated: January 24, 2024