By Lesli Mueller, Director of Child Nutrition
If you haven’t heard, the Free School Meals program is in progress for the 2023-24 school year. The program entitles all K-12 students to receive breakfast and lunch at no cost regardless of family income. Meals will continue to be the flavorful and nutritious meals that students and families have always expected from our school nutrition services.
Our farm to school program is a prime example of the superb quality of foods students are eating in the cafeterias. Hutchinson Schools is the recognized leader amongst other school districts to take the leap and purchase local foods for improved school menus that fuel kids for learning. The nutrition staff in all our kitchens have done an amazing job chopping, preparing and cooking in brand new ways to get the best taste out of all our local ingredients.
You may be surprised to hear about the wide variety of locally sourced foods we offer to students every school day. An abundance of different kinds of fresh vegetables and fruits, some only available in our area. Honey and the freshest milk comes to our schools from farms close by. We are excited for the first time that all our beef offerings on the menu are 100% locally raised beef. That means for example, our taco meat, spaghetti sauce and tater tot hotdish are all made from real ground beef.
In the last couple of years you may have noticed for the month of September we celebrate all beef burger Fridays. Our students can top their burger with Minnesota cheese and an array of locally raised vegetables of their choosing. All beef brats, homemade meatballs, barbacoa beef added to our “Build a Burrito” menu and beef tips in gravy are selections you’ll see in the upcoming months. Local foods we will be adding to our Farm to School program this year are maple syrup, oats, dry beans, and whole grain flours. And students will be enjoying rotisserie chickens locally raised for their Thanksgiving meal this year.
We realize these whole foods from our area farmers are unfamiliar to some of our students. It can be a challenge to get students to try unfamiliar foods. One way we aim to overcome this challenge is by featuring taste tests to introduce these new local foods to students prior to being on the menu.
The Farm to School program not only offers these incredibly delicious and nutritious local foods, but also allows an opportunity of educating students to know where their food comes from and the health benefits of eating locally raised foods. Learning about where food comes from has happened in the classroom but also from school visits from our farmers to talk with students about growing food for school meals.
October is Farm to School month and the district celebrates it by taking part in the “Great Lakes Apple Crunch” on October 12th. This event includes all schools in the state of Minnesota who want to participate. The fun event entails groups of students in the cafeteria simultaneously taking a bite out of an apple that came from a local orchard. Food should be fun for kids and a way for them to connect to the local foods we serve. Other highlights for the month of October will be showcasing new menus using locally sourced foods like Squash Mac n Cheese and Baked French Toast with Apples in Maple Syrup.
We believe building strong community relationships with our area farmers can connect students to stories about food, increase the chances of more students enjoying eating foods straight from the farm, and supporting farmers by offering an economic opportunity that keeps them closer to home to spend time with family.