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When a school lunch is more than a meal!

When a School Lunch...Bring up the subject “school lunch” and many of us think of plastic trays, hot dogs, pizza, fruit salad and the ever-present milk carton. For many schools, school lunches are a way to give meals to children who may otherwise go without, and the focus is solely on nutrition. For students of Sapa Un Academy,  “school lunch” means not only what’s on the plate, but so much more.

Sapa Un students receive a hot lunch and a healthy snack during the day,” says Sapa Un head teacher Jody Jackson, “Our lunches are made from scratch by our on-site cook and feature a variety of meals with lots of vegetables and a variety of protein, including traditional Lakota staples like Bison, wild turkey, pheasant and venison.”

Many of the vegetables served at Sapa Un come from the Community Garden at the St. Francis Mission, where Sapa Un Academy is based. “Our students work in the garden and can see where the vegetables they are eating are grown. It’s a lot easier to get a kid to eat something they’ve helped grow, because it gives ownership to them in the process,” says Jackson. They also learn bartering and trade skills, which is strong in Lakota culture, by working with the local Bison ranch and the school has also made arrangements with local hunters for the meat they use. “By working with local food producers, we are able to teach traditional Lakota values that mirror modern values of helping others and the wider community, to students at Sapa Un.”

The lunch program also focuses on nutritional basics. “Many of our students have parents who work 2 to 3 jobs to make ends meet. When a parent is working that much, there isn’t a lot of time to prepare meals from scratch or focus on vegetables and whole grains – many rely on processed foods. Our lunch program is designed to help students at Sapa Un make informed nutritional decisions, educating them about serving sizes, healthy eating and what types of other food are available for them to eat.”

For the 2015-2016 school year, the Sapa Un Academy lunch program has grown, as the school added additional classrooms to accommodate for an increased student population. Sapa Un’s students – who range from kindergartners to 5th grade – all take part in the program, and also help set up and clean up the tables after meals. “Our goal is to engage our students throughout the process so they feel a sense of ownership and empowerment in regards to what they eat.”

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