MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Over the years, school lunches have gotten a bad reputation. But recently, there have been many new efforts to improve the taste and nutrition of cafeteria food.

Life Time Fitness announced Tuesday that its foundation is awarding a $550,000 grant to Minneapolis Public Schools. The money will be used to purchase new food-service equipment and enable the nutrition staff to remove unhealthy ingredients from school menus.

Minneapolis Public Schools have already been working on improving the meals they serve by installing salad bars, partnering with local chefs and removing unhealthy foods from the menu.

But this huge grant will take it to a whole new level, and may end up serving as a national model on how to serve healthy food in schools that actually tastes good.

Bertrand Weber, director of nutrition services for Minneapolis Public Schools, says the district serves 20,000 lunches a day five days a week, all while trying to adhere to government standards.

“It has to look good, it has to taste good,” Weber said. “Some of the food has to be familiar.”

Weber says new kitchen equipment that can cook, mix, bag and seal large amounts of food quickly will enable his staff to make more home-cooked meals instead of buying pre-packaged stuff.

“We have to, for example, buy pre-cooked chicken. What we intend to do with a sealer is we can actually get fresh chicken legs,” he said. “We season them here or create a marinade or a rub.”

The kitchen equipment will give them control over the ingredients used to season food. They’d like to eliminate artificial preservatives, colors and sweeteners, bleached flour, high-fructose corn syrup, trans fats, hydrogenated oils, antibiotics and hormones in beef and other animal products.

“It’s still baby steps,” Weber said. “The grant is really helping this facility with making fresher food for the entire district.”

Jason Thunstrom is the director of the Life Time Foundation.

“We need to increase education among parents, government officials, administrators because change won’t occur until we all collectively agree we’ve got to feed our kids healthier,” Thunstrom said.

Right now in the United States, one in three kids is considered overweight or obese, and therefore more likely to develop diabetes or other problems as adults.

The Life Time Foundation is now working with more than 90 schools in Minnesota, Illinois and Ohio to improve lunches. This $550,000 grant to Minneapolis is the largest they’ve ever awarded.

New menu items will undergo taste tests over the next three days at about 25 schools. Click here for the recipe of a quinoa salad that will be served at the taste tests.


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