Ethnic Cuisine in Elementary Schools

A Good Idea


To counter the growing problem of childhood obesity, the Seattle Healthy Eating by Design project came up with the novel and healthy concept to introduce traditional and ethnic cuisine into the elementary school lunch menu. On the third Thursday of each month in the Seattle and Highline districts, students are offered a meal selected from their diverse countries of origin. In addition, the students receive a menu card detailing the meal, its recipe, its cultural significance, and its nutritional information.

Menu items are solicited from students, parents, staff, community members and local ethnic restaurants. The cuisines are evaluated for nutritional value, affordability (for school system), ease of preparation (time), availability of ingredients, and taste. Once the final candidates are selected, the recipes are tested and adjusted in the kitchen and a taste test is given to staff and students.

Goal / Mission

The goal of this program is to introduce healthy eating habits in elementary schools to counter the recent increase in childhood obesity.

Results / Accomplishments

The diverse cuisine has been a hit among the 65,000 students in the two districts. Vietnamese sandwiches, and Somali Spaghetti have been served so far, with their success fueling demand for more culturally-relevant foods. In January, they will be serving Phat Prik Gai (Thai spicy green beans and chicken) and in February, they will be serving Louisiana Gumbo (a recipe submitted by a student that reflects their African American heritage).

One of the challenges of serving the ethnic dishes, which typically use whole, fresh ingredients, has been changing the system accustomed to canned and pre-prepared foods. The success of the program, however, has melted the resistance and made the logistical challenges seem much less daunting. Volunteers, cafeteria workers and teachers have embraced the program, working together to encourage participation and find solutions to any issues.

About this Promising Practice

Primary Contact
Wendy Weyer
Seattle Public Schools
PO Box 34165
Seattle, WA 98124
Health / Exercise, Nutrition, & Weight
Education / School Environment
Healthy Eating By Design
Active Living By Design
Date of publication
Nov 2005
Seattle, WA
For more details
Target Audience

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