Grand Rapids schools offer healthy meal choices

Even students with special dietary needs can find options in Grand Rapids Public Schools.

Grand Rapids Public Schools’ (GRPS) Nutrition Services Coordinator Amy Klinkoski has a big role to play: she is responsible for planning and overseeing the service of 9,000 breakfasts, 16,000 lunches and 1,500 snacks each school day. These meals are important sources of nutrition, particularly for low-resource households.

In addition to providing healthy choices according to the new standards outlined in the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act , many GRPS students have special dietary needs, including: nut, egg, dairy and soy allergies, gluten intolerance, vegetarian, vegan and religious food requests. Klinkoski, a school nutrition specialist, works hard to develop new recipes that are vegan and allergen free. Her latest creation is called “Stop Light Soup.” It is a vegetable-stock base with navy beans and red, yellow and green peppers. Klinkoski is also working to try and source navy beans for the soup from Michigan growers.

The United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Food and Nutrition Service recently posted a new “Food Buying Guide” for school meal programs. This guide is designed to help food service directors better understand the new school meal nutrition standards and adjust their purchasing accordingly. Although the new nutrition standards don’t call for special dietary foods, the increase in servings and types of fruits and vegetables will be welcome for students and parents of those with special needs. Klinkoski says all GRPS middle and high schools offer “fresh choice” salad bars where students can find a wide variety of fresh fruits and vegetables.

Kendra Wills, Community Food Systems educator with Michigan State University Extension, volunteers as a Healthy Eating Coach at Congress Elementary School in Grand Rapids a few times each month. Wills explains, “Grand Rapids Public Schools is a participating in the USDA Community Eligibility Option, which means free breakfast, lunch and snack for all GRPS students. Considering the large numbers of students served, I am always impressed by the wide variety of meal choices and creative use of fruits and vegetables. Kids aren’t eating pizza and hamburgers every day. Just this past month, GRPS served butternut squash, sweet potato tater tots, and purple cabbage salad. Rutabagas and grapefruit are on the menu in December. MSU Extension applauds Grand Rapids Public Schools for their commitment to providing healthy, high quality foods for all students – even those with special dietary needs.”

Anyone interested in becoming a Healthy Eating Coach for Grand Rapids Public Schools can contact Amy Klinkoski at For more information on MSU Extension’s community-based food system programs, please visit the MSU Extension website.

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