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Friday, May 3, 2024

Happy School Lunch Hero Day!


On behalf of Michigan Farm to School, we wish you all a Happy School Lunch Hero Day! We are so grateful for those who prepare and serve school meals to our state's children. The press release below is from the Michigan Department of Education and it recognizes some amazing food service directors and staff.

Wishing you all a wonderful weekend!


Megan McManus 


Farm to Institution Specialist

MSU Center for Regional Food Systems



Michigan Department of Education Press Release




May 2, 2024

Bob Wheaton, Director of Public and Governmental Affairs, 517-241-4395
Bill DiSessa, Spokesperson, 517-335-6649



Try It Thursday, Broccoli That Kids Like, Student-Grown Produce Are Stuff of Heroes

School food service staff honored on Friday, May 3


LANSING – The Michigan Department of Education (MDE) is recognizing outstanding school food service directors and staff on Friday, May 3, School Lunch Hero Day.

This year's Michigan heroes are Mr. Dan Kuk, food and nutrition director for Greenville Public Schools; Ms. Shelby Turnquist, food service director for Houghton Portage Public Schools and Hancock Public Schools; and Ms. Gabrielle Trader, food service director of Superior Central School District.

"Improving the health, safety, and wellness of all learners is Goal 3 in Michigan's Top 10 Strategic Education Plan," said State Superintendent Dr. Michael F. Rice. "School lunch heroes across Michigan ensure students can access the nutritious meals that they need to be healthy and successful learners."

School Lunch Hero Day honors the people who are responsible for providing lunches to millions of school children across the United States.

"MDE would like to thank everyone who helps provide healthy, nutritious meals for Michigan children and recognize three school lunch heroes in Michigan's school food service industry. They support local farms and Michigan suppliers to provide fresh, local, healthy meals at their schools," said Dr. Diane Golzynski, deputy superintendent for the MDE Division of Business, Health, and Library Services.

Dan Kuk, Food and Nutrition Director, Greenville Public Schools

Kuk implemented "Try It Thursdays" and Team Nutrition in Greenville schools to provide nutrition education to students and expose students to new foods so they can taste-test recipes. At the elementary schools, he created an age-appropriate nutrition education slide show that operates during meals.

Kuk has been food and nutrition director at Greenville Public Schools for nearly two years and has worked with school food service for nine years. The district serves over 3,730 students.

"As the director of food and nutrition at Greenville Public Schools, I take immense pride in our collaborative efforts," Kuk said. "I am fortunate to have the support of numerous stakeholders, including the Board of Education, the administration team, and school staff. Special recognition goes to the district's Food and Nutrition Department staff, whose dedication is integral to our food service program's efficient and effective operation. Thanks to Michigan School Meals, the number of students receiving school-provided breakfast and lunch has increased significantly compared to previous years. Our mission is to ensure no child goes hungry due to a lack of resources or food options and to continuously expand our program's reach to impact more students' lives positively.

"Given my background, I deeply value the impact school food and nutrition can have," Kuk said. "Growing up in a diverse community exposed me to various foods and inspired me to provide similar experiences for our students. I aim to enhance students' education by introducing new foods that are not easily accessible elsewhere and fostering healthy eating habits. I believe in supporting the whole child and am enthusiastic about contributing through our local food and nutrition initiatives."

Shelby Turnquist, Houghton Portage Public Schools and Hancock Public Schools

Turnquist works with local farms and even brings farm families to summer meal pickup sites. "One week, we took the farmer's sons for meal pickup and the boys were teaching the parents how to prepare the foods. It was garlic scapes that week," she said. "I love to see them glowing as people were so interested in what they were saying, because they had actually grown those vegetables. They told the kids, 'Just try it. It's good. I grew it.'"

Turnquist has been a food service director for 29 years. Her two districts serve about 2,100 students. Her motto is: "I'm only as good as the people that are backing me." 

She's a food service director because she loves to see the excitement on children's faces when they try something new. "In my heart and soul, we have to start teaching these kids to eat healthy so that it's second nature to them," she said. "I remember putting broccoli on the salad bar – years ago. They didn't even know what it was. We called it green trees. By the end of the year, they were loving it."

Gabrielle Trader, Superior Central School District  

Trader grew up on a small hobby farm. Through that experience, as well as working in restaurants and managing her own family farm, she realized early on that not all food is created equally and that it can be difficult to provide the same quality of food that you produce in your own backyard if you do not have the resources or know-how.

Her team works with the Agriculture Education program to serve student-grown produce and has increased scratch cooking in the school with items such as homemade taco meat, homemade pizza, meatloaf, grilled cheese, and tomato soup. The student Lift Up grant project to upgrade the school's sugar shack is bringing homemade syrup to the cafeteria.

"When I began this position, I knew that I wanted to be able to provide delicious, nutrient-dense food for our students," said Trader, who has been food service director for two years at Superior Central School District, which serves over 325 students. 

"I quickly realized that there is an ongoing movement to go back to cooking from scratch in schools and to strengthen the local food chain by utilizing farm-to- table food procurement methods. Ultimately my goal is to help support our Agricultural Ed program … (and) to assist in providing the students with the knowledge of where their food comes from by including the students in the process as much as possible. In doing so, we help create a healthy relationship with food and plant the seeds of knowledge to empower students to grow their own food in whatever capacity they are able to do so at home and in the future."

This year's heroes were selected based on their participation in extra programs such as School Breakfast Expansion Grant, Summer Food Service Program, Local Food for Schools, 10 Cents a Meal for Michigan's Kids and Farms, and USDA Farm to School Census.

For more information about school nutrition programs in Michigan, visit the MDE School Nutrition Programs website.

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