PORTLAND — Students at Peaks Island Elementary School have been given the honor of creating a healthy lunch for all 6,800 students in Portland schools this spring.
The date has yet to be decided, but students at the school are already hard at work creating a menu. One tasting has already been held on Jan. 13, and others are scheduled for later this month.
Students at Peaks Island were asked to create healthy lunch choices after they participated in a program this past fall called Clean Plate, which had them looking at all aspects of how healthy foods help the human body to thrive.
Renee Bourgoine-Serio, lead teacher at the school, said the Clean Plate initiative was made possible with a $2,500 grant from the Portland Education Foundation and involved all students in kindergarten through fifth grade.
Bourgoine-Serio said Clean Plate is just one of the many steps Peaks Island School is taking toward educating students about sustainable practices “as we move toward becoming a green school.”
Under Clean Plate, the students in kindergarten through second grade looked at the specific question: “How does healthy food help our bodies grow and thrive?”
The kids in grades three and four looked at the question: “Why do we need plants?” and also explored what it means to be a scientist working in the forefront of sustainability.
Fifth-grade students looked at the question: “How does the energy in food help us make healthy food choices?” According to Bourgoine-Serio, “Students spent the (entire) fall researching the benefits of healthy foods.”
Once students at Peaks have decided on a proposed menu, Superintendent Xavier Botana, Mayor Ethan Strimling and Jane McLucas, the food service director, will hold a taste test Jan. 30.
“Peaks students are very proud to know that other (Portland public school) students will be eating a healthy and delicious meal that they created,” Bourgoine-Serio said.
And, she added, the most important aspect of the healthy lunch project is that it’s “the students (who are) guiding this important work.”
McLucas has visited the Peaks Island School several times already to teach the older students what is required under current nutritional guidelines for a school-prepared lunch.
She said this is the first time her department has been involved in a project of this kind, and she’s hoping other schools in Portland will take the “opportunity to work with us to have their school highlighted on the menu, eventually creating a menu that is as diverse as the district.”
McLucas said Peaks’ students will “take what they have learned in the classroom and what they have learned about the lunch program to create a meal that we can reproduce and serve to the students” district-wide.
In creating the menu, McLucas said it will be important to “evaluate the recipes for nutrient requirements” and to “create recipes for large-volume meal production.”
Her department will then procure the needed ingredients and find a week in the school schedule to “place the meal on the menu, letting everyone know that Peaks Island Elementary created this meal.”
McLucas said, “The school lunch program is an important part of the students’ day, (and) whenever we can take the opportunity to teach the students, families and staff about the program we gain support and participation” for school-prepared meals.
Her hope for the Peaks Island students is that they “understand we all need good nutrition. To learn and understand the importance of nutrition as fuel for their bodies” and to gain an “understanding of the school lunch and breakfast program, (as well as have the) opportunity to see their ideas come to fruition.”
Although the special menu is focused on providing healthy choices, McLucas said her department already “works diligently” every day “within the regulations to create healthy meals” for students.
“Our staff takes pride in being part of the school day and serving the students of Portland a nutritious meal each day,” she said.
Some of the grains, fruits and vegetables students at the Peaks Island Elementary School are considering serving at other Portland schools during a special Peaks Island Lunch Day, planned for this spring.