The Verdict is In—High School Students Liked Michigan Lamb for Lunch!

05/1/2013

Sfeeha, served on April 18 in Kentwood and Grand Rapids public high schools. Photo courtesy Stephanie Marino. (view larger image)

Sfeeha, served on April 18 in Kentwood and Grand Rapids public high schools. Photo courtesy Stephanie Marino.

 By Stephanie Marino, MSU Extension Health and Nutrition Educator, and Kendra Wills, MSU Extension Community Food Systems Educator

 If you think that middle and high school students aren’t known for their healthy eating habits and sophisticated palates, this story may change your mind. Believe it or not, middle and high school students in Kentwood, Kelloggsville and Grand Rapids Public Schools tried and liked Mediterranean-style kafta, sfeeha, and calzones with cucumber sauce hand-made by school food service staff in the districts. Six out of ten students surveyed from East Kentwood High School and Grand Rapids’ City High said they really enjoyed the meal and would likely select it again. A few students said this was their first time ever trying lamb meat and they were enthusiastic about trying something new.

This project was the brain child of Kentwood Food Service Director, Mo Shamali, and Grand Rapids Food Service Director, Paul Baumgartner. Baumgartner met a lamb producer at his cottage last summer and talked with Shamali about how lamb could be prepared for a school meal. Baumgartner has long been a supporter of Michigan agriculture and farm-to-school initiatives. Shamali is Jordanian-born and has experience in preparing and serving lamb dishes. Both food service directors also wanted this dish to help students learn about religious harmony as Christians, Muslims and Jews all eat lamb.  This information was presented on the monthly menu along with some of their recipes.  

East Kentwood High School’s menu featuring Michigan ground lamb dishes. Photo by Stephanie Marino.

East Kentwood High School’s menu featuring Michigan ground lamb dishes.

Photo by Stephanie Marino.

Baumgartner turned to Michigan State University Extension Community Food System Educators Kendra Wills and Becky Henne for assistance in finding a supplier for Michigan ground lamb meat. Henne and Colleen Matts of the Michigan State University Center for Regional Food Systems arranged a meeting with Wolverine Packing Company in Detroit, which is the third largest lamb processor in the U.S.

Over the past several months the market price of lamb meat has come down and was at a price point that fit the schools’ food service budget. The schools were able to purchase ground lamb meat for market price of $0.30 per ounce. Since Wolverine was already connected to Gordon Food Service for the distribution of other food products, the project was able to fall into place in early 2013.

On the day the lamb items were served, MSU Extension Educators asked not only if students liked the dish, but if they thought it was important for schools to purchase farm products from Michigan. Eight of out ten students agreed that supporting local agriculture is important to them. Some students commented that they thought Michigan food would be healthier and better tasting. A group of four boys in Grand Rapids even asked for a second helping while being surveyed! 

Baumgartner said they didn’t break any participation records, but they were pleased with the amount of students selecting the lamb dishes (the other choice was pizza). Both Food Service Directors said that they would be serving Michigan lamb on the menu again this May as well as next school year - another win for Michigan agriculture!

Lamb calzones served on April 18 in Grand Rapids Public Schools. Photo by Stephanie Marino.

Lamb calzones served on April 18 in Grand Rapids Public Schools.

Photo by Stephanie Marino.

Chefs in a few Traverse City restaurants have gotten wind of this effort and now they want in on the supply of Michigan lamb meat. Henne and MSU Extension Community Food Systems Educator, Rob Sirrine, are now pursuing those connections. Be sure to be on the lookout for Michigan lamb and consider supporting this growing market.

For more information on this project and the nutritional aspects of lamb meat see the article written by Becky Henne in March 2013 here. To connect with Michigan State University’s Farm-to-School program, visit www.mifarmtoschool.msu.edu.