The State College Area School District Food Service Department loves to include locally grown and produced foods on its school menus. Director Megan Schaper shares these tips with others who want to feature more Pennsylvania foods on their school menus.
School staff can establish relationships with local orchards, farmers, and producers to purchase items that are seasonally available and fit their needs. Apples, cantaloupe, sweet corn, and peaches are items that SCASD purchases directly from local farmers. Bread bowls and dinner rolls are purchased from a local bakery. In season, local produce can sometimes be less expensive when purchasing directly from the farmer. Sometimes locally produced foods can cost more but the excitement created by using a favorite local product, like from Gemelli Bakery, are worth the added cost.
Schools need to be sure that the items they are purchasing come from safe sources. School directors rarely have time to inspect multiple farms to make sure that they meet required food safety standards. Ask your regular produce and food suppliers for lists of local products that they carry. This is already an important marketing tool for restaurants, and suppliers have the information readily available.
Don't forget that Pennsylvania is home to many nationally recognized food manufacturers.....Tyson, Nardones, Mrs. T's, Knouse, Hanover, Furmano, and Michael Foods are just a few manufacturers that schools may already be using without realizing they are supporting a Pennsylvania manufacturer.
The school cafeteria can plan special menus or events to highlight the commitment to serving local foods. Students and families appreciate knowing that they are supporting the local food scene. And food service staff are proud to serve menus featuring local foods. SCASD has invited farmers or small manufacturers to talk with students and host a taste test of their products. Local lunches menus are planned that only utilize local foods. A different font is used on the September and October menus to highlight items that were locally procured.
Parents, teachers, and volunteers can help establish and maintain school gardens. While these typically cannot provide the volume of food needed for school meals, they provide great opportunities to get students excited about healthy food.