A top U.S. Department of Agriculture official ate lunch with Geyser Road Elementary School students on Thursday to highlight the city school district’s creative approach to healthy school meals.
The school district, under the guidance of food service director Margaret Sullivan, has formed a partnership with the Saratoga Farmers Market that allows the school lunch program to offer students locally-grown produce and fruit.
Agriculture Deputy Undersecretary Janey Thornton sat down with first-graders at the Geyser Road school and joined them in a build-your-own burrito lunch.
The burrito ingredients included organic black beans from Cayuga County as well as locally grown lettuce and other vegetables from Saratoga Farmers Market. Dessert included apples grown in Saratoga County.
“Improving school lunches is a priority for the Obama administration in its efforts to combat childhood obesity,” Thornton said in a written statement.
“It was great to see the efforts made by the Saratoga Springs City School District in moving from processed food to fresh, whole foods made from scratch,” she said.
Thornton spent nearly two hours at the Geyser Road school. Principal Melodye Eldeen gave Thornton a tour of the school, including a vegetable garden students have created in a courtyard of the building.
“We just chose Geyser, but it could have been any of our schools,” said food service director Sullivan.
The district receives fresh produce from the farmers market twice a week in the fall. On Nov. 6 the Saratoga Farmers Market, which holds its markets outdoors on High Rock Avenue in the spring, summer and fall, will move indoors to the Division Street Elementary School.
The market pays part of its rent at the school by providing locally grown produce to the district food program throughout the winter months.
During her visit, Thornton discussed the chance to improve the national school lunch and school breakfast programs through the reauthorization of the Child Nutrition Act.
Ken Sierra, a spokesman for USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service in the Northeast Region, accompanied Thornton during her visit to Geyser Road school.
Thornton is in Saratoga Springs to attend the New York State School Nutrition Association conference being held today and Saturday at the Saratoga Springs City Center and Saratoga Hilton.
Sullivan said the state Education Department recommended Thornton visit the city school district because of the district’s healthy school meals program. She said the district no longer serves french fries, processed chicken nuggets or processed mozzarella sticks. Dropping the fried mozzarella sticks was not popular, she said.
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