Lisa Griffin has been the director of Nutrition for Union Public Schools in Oklahoma since 2009. Her mission? To provide delicious, nutritious and sustainable menu options that kids enjoy eating. She has done that through partnerships with local farms, sustainable menu items and innovative food programs that teach students about the connection between plate and planet.
Read our blog to get inspired by her work and maybe even steal a few tips for your school!
IF: What inspired you to pursue a career in nutrition?
LG: I grew up on a farm in Western Oklahoma, so I’m a big believer in fresh fruits and vegetables. My love of food developed when I was a young girl, and when I learned what kinds of food kids are eating these days and the lack of knowledge they have regarding where that food comes from, I knew I wanted to make a difference.
Why did you decide to add Impossible™ meat made from plants to your menu?
School meal programs are a business. You need to cover labor and food costs, but also serve food that kids actually want. To make sure we’re in tune with our students, we stay up to date on the latest food trends and implement surveys and gather group feedback so that we can hear what they actually like.
Plant-based menu items are really resonating with students, whether they identify as vegan, vegetarian or meat eaters. Kids love the way they taste, and I’m a firm believer in the positive effects plant-based foods can have on emotional and physical well-being -- as a vegetarian I’ve experienced these benefits first hand! That led to incorporating Impossible meat made from plants into our menu.
How did you build your Impossible™ menu?
Before a full roll out, our culinary team taste tested different options with groups of 6th and 7th graders to get their feedback. It was important to us that the meals would satisfy all of the children’s needs, not just those with special preferences. We started with popular dishes that we knew the kids would love: an Impossible™ Burger and Impossible™Taco Salad.
When we introduced our Impossible Burger, we actually ran out before the line was through -- I’ve never seen this before! I also love that Impossible meat is versatile, so I can switch out ground beef in a variety of dishes like tacos, spaghetti or soup. We also looked at your cookbook(opens in a new tab) for recipe inspiration and loved the Impossible™ Lemongrass Skewers, but found them too labor intensive. However it gave us an idea to launch an Asian-inspired burger in the future.
When we introduced our Impossible Burger, we actually ran out before the line was through -- I’ve never seen this before!
To learn more about how to launch an Impossible menu at your school, check out this blog(opens in a new tab).
How are students and parents responding?
Middle schools are the campuses that eat the most plant-based menu items, so much so that they run out -- I’ve never seen that with other age groups. We’ve also gotten feedback from parents saying things like, ‘My child said they can eat food at school and they’re so excited!’ and ‘My child is eating everyday and is happy and full.’ I’m really happy with the response we’ve received and how Impossible™ products are helping us achieve our goals. We want to change this generation one burger at a time!
Why has this launch been so successful?
It’s a combination of the thrill of seeing something new and different on the menu and the students loving how the food tastes. The staff is excited because they had never cooked with a vegan meat that bleeds before, and the kids love it because it’s delicious and reminds them of their favorite fast food. If you can get someone to taste it, the results are pretty remarkable. We also loved showcasing Impossible™ wrappers, posters and t-shirts -- that got the students really excited.
Upon cooking with Impossible meat for the first time, one of our chefs was amazed that ‘it looked like it had blood coming out of it!’
What are the biggest challenges in feeding kids right now?
Their lack of knowledge regarding food and diet, and complete disconnect with where our food comes from. We have to work really hard to help them recognize that the food on their plates comes from farms, not the grocery store. In France, children know the meat they eat comes from animals & can even point to the body part. When you ask American kids where the meat comes from, they say a grocery store. When I was in high school, I took a tour of a pork processing plant for the first time and had to stop eating meat for a while. I think people don’t tell their kids about where meat comes from because they don’t want to traumatize them.
As we build out new programs, I do a lot of work to get the kids to try new things because I want to make nutrition and healthy foods accessible to them. We cook everything fresh on site, source a quarter of our produce from local farms and make our own bread. Maybe they’ll latch on, or maybe it can change their lives! The most important component though is that the food has to taste good. If it doesn't taste good & look good, they won't eat it. We have a lot of competition off campus from other QSRs, so we need to make the food taste good.
What educational content is resonating with the students?
We’ve been working really hard to incorporate various learning styles into our curriculum so that we can ensure the children understand where their food comes from and make the planet to plate connection. In addition to classroom learning and highlighting certain foods in the serving line, we shot videos of local farmers talking to kids about different plants. We learned that kids are more likely to watch the videos if they see other kids on the screen, so we made sure that kids were on camera.
We also share videos at lunch because that’s a great time to capture their attention and even share the video links in the food bags sent home from our schools. This allows us to reach more students, and their families, because if we really want to change the way families eat, that has to include home as well as school!
If you’d like to learn more about Lisa’s work, reach out to her at Union Public School(opens in a new tab). For additional learning, check out these links:
Union Nutrition Department Berry Fun Facts PDF(opens in a new tab)
Union Nutrition Department Applesauce PDF(opens in a new tab)
Union Nutrition Department Berry Video(opens in a new tab)
Union Nutrition Department Cucumber Video(opens in a new tab)
Union Nutrition Department Quick Breads Video(opens in a new tab)
Union Nutrition Department Sweet Potato Video(opens in a new tab)
Union Nutrition Department Watermelon Video(opens in a new tab)
Union Nutrition Department Apple Video(opens in a new tab)