Unique partnership to create healthy school lunches in Hancock

HANCOCK – Students at Hancock Public Schools are getting a new look at school meals this school year as the district’s dining services staff has teamed up with Portage Health Nutrition Services to revamp its food menu with more fruits, vegetables, and nutrient-rich foods.

“We were looking to get healthier foods in here for our students, and we’ve seen first hand what Portage Health has done in the past 18 months,” said Renee Salani, food services director at the school.

Salani contacted Mark Pittillo, nutrition services director at Portage Health, and the two set off to improve students’ experiences and eating habits.

“Portage Health has made childhood obesity a focus for this year, so working to make school lunches healthier seemed like a great place to start,” said Mark Pittillo, director of nutrition services. “Besides, healthy doesn’t always have to be boring.”

In fact, it’s not boring. Pittillo worked with Tara Lasilla, registered dietitian, to create a menu that will keep the students excited about school lunches.

Fresh fruits and vegetables will change every day, and each menu item will have twists, such as the spaghetti made with whole-wheat pasta and homemade turkey meat sauce, or pizza made with a multi-grain crust and fresh toppings.

“This was a challenging project because schools don’t have a lot of money to spend on providing high-quality lunches,” Pittillo said. “We’ll continue working with Renee and her staff throughout the year by providing training and guidance. We also have focus groups planned with students to see how they feel about the new food.”

The project fits into First Lady Michelle Obama’s mission of fighting childhood obesity called “Let’s Move, America’s Move to Raise a Healthier Generation of Kids.” Pittillo registered himself as a local chef on that website, and Salani adopted him into Hancock’s kitchen.

“We’re all working together now, and we’re excited to see what reaction we get from our students and staff,” said Salani.