ILLUSTRATION BY DARREN GYGI
Minnesota schools, legislation, and organizations help feed kids nourishing meals.
When I first visited Minneapolis Public Elementary Schools nearly a decade ago to choose one for my kids, I was appalled by the cafeteria choices: sugar-saturated cereals for breakfast, pre-packaged French Toast “stix” with syrup for lunch, and chocolate- or strawberry-flavored milk.
We hadn’t gotten there overnight. During the 1970s and ’80s, many schools in larger districts across the U.S. moved away from their kitchens in favor of receiving packaged food prepped in mass quantities at central facilities. Add in budget and staffing restrictions, and the challenges of getting fresh food to school kids became formidable.
Today, though, the offerings on one day’s Minneapolis Public Schools lunch menu include: fresh fruit, a salad bar, even quinoa. The foods are free of artificial food dyes, artificial sweeteners, even most antibiotics and hormones used in livestock.
Much of the change can be credited to the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act signed into law by President Obama in 2010. As the first real national reform to the school lunch and breakfast program in 30 years, it heightened nutritional requirements and allocated federal funds for increased free meals for children in need.