Minneapolis Public Schools Has New Approach to Healthy Lunch

Updated: 05/20/2013 10:53 PM KSTP.com By: Naomi Pescovitz

As the school year wraps up so does the first year of new national requirements for healthier school lunches. Fruits and veggies are required every day along with more whole grain food. Only low fat or fat free milk is allowed. Menus must have fewer calories, less sodium and saturated fat.

Thousands of students in the Minneapolis Public School District are also seeing a refurbished take on school lunch, with food cooked on-site as opposed to pre-packaged meals prepared at the district's central kitchen. Several schools now have salad bars as well.

"It's always easy to implement wide spread change when it's a very popular change," said Tom Murray, administrator at Patrick Henry High School in Minneapolis.

All high schools in the district and some elementary schools now cook on site. There are food stations with names like "Ethnic Bowl" and "Cafe Italiano."

"I like the changes actually because there's more variety to choose from and I feel like it's healthier," said Patrick Henry Junior Kay La Yang.

Director of Culinary and Nutrition Services Bertrand Weber says school lunch participation is up as high as 30 percent at some high schools and 9 percent district wide.

"The fruits and vegetables at the high schools and the schools that we have salad bars, we're actually seeing a huge increase in consumption. Not just that the kids are taking it, they are actually eating it," Weber said.

Seward Montessori has not yet made the switch.

"Sometimes they have good things, sometimes they have really gross things," said Seward Montessori 8th grader Telena Rogers.

Weber's goal is to get all schools cooking meals on site.

"No matter what effort or what quality food, once it's in that little plastic container, and I have to use a rethermalizer to bring it back to temperature, it really defeats the purpose of the love and effort that our culinary team is putting together for those kids," Weber said.

There has been one major change to lunch at Seward Montessori, after two students there grew frustrated with how little time they had to eat. Talia Bradley and Antonia Ritter asked for more.

Now, instead of 15 minutes for lunch and 15 minutes for recess, middle school students get up to 25 minutes for lunch and can leave for recess when they choose.

"I see that it's just lunch but that's your social time for the day, that's your time that you actually eat and get all of the things you need to get you through until your afternoon snack or your dinner," Bradley said.