THOUGHT FOR FOOD School Grants Available to Allow Students to Research and Develop Healthier School Lunches

Contact: Martin Ackley, Director of Public and Governmental Affairs 517-241-4395
Agency: Education

September 22, 2017

LANSING – Michigan school cafeterias soon will become edible research laboratories for students tasked with finding and eating healthier lunches under a federal grant, the Michigan Department of Education (MDE) announced today.

MDE will use the three-year, $500,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), in partnership with health organizations and educators, to pilot of set of school lessons for pupils in Grades 5-8 using problem-based learning and the scientific method. The goal: provide them a hands-on opportunity to evaluate and make changes in their lunchroom menus.

“The lessons will encourage students in upper elementary and middle schools to select and eat healthier foods, such as fruits and vegetables offered through the National School Lunch Program,” State Superintendent Brian Whiston said. “Research shows that nutritious meals help improve student learning and provide healthy boosts of energy rather than empty calories.”

Michigan has distributed about $6 million in USDA grants over the past 20 years for school nutrition education. This 21styear marks a new approach to engaging children in the process of eating healthy meals. Past efforts have included cultivation of school gardens, and this year, the “smart-lunchroom” concept will see school kids trading in their hand trowels and pruners for microscopes and calorie counters.

Specifically, the latest Federal Team Nutrition Training Grant will encourage one classroom in each of up to 60 participating schools to create places where students are healthy, fit, and ready to learn – each using up to $1,000 in funding. If fewer than 60 schools apply, the program could spread to more classrooms in the participating schools. Seventeen schools have applied so far.

And because student health behaviors are influenced by adults, the grant also will develop school wellness champions by training more than 600 child nutrition professionals and recruiting them to participate in an online STEPS Challenge program, a wellness program the School Nutrition Association created for such professionals.

By using student-driven solutions, supported by school leaders and child nutrition professionals, this grant ultimately seeks to encourage students to follow healthier eating patterns recommended in the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. 

Teachers in Grades 5-8, who are interested in piloting the lessons, may apply through the 2017-2018 Building Healthy Communities: Step Up for School Wellness Program by September 30, or email MDE-SchoolNutrition@michigan.gov for more information.

The full Request for Applications (RFA) is at http://buildinghealthycommunities.arewehealthy.com. Also, child nutrition professionals who want to sign-up for the online program should visit: https://schoolnutrition.org/Resources/STEPS/home.