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Farm-to-Table Food Truck Aims to Boost School Lunch Participation

The Madison School District is hoping that high-school students will be more likely to get their meals from an on-site food truck than heading off campus to eat lunch. (REAP Food Group)
The Madison School District is hoping that high-school students will be more likely to get their meals from an on-site food truck than heading off campus to eat lunch. (REAP Food Group)
April 18, 2018

MADISON, Wis. - A new food truck could be the answer to the school-lunch challenges that Madison-area high schools face.

An open campus means only 25 percent of high-school students eat lunch at school, even though about half qualify for free or reduced-price meals. When they eat off-campus, they don't necessarily make the healthiest choices. That's where the Uproot Food Truck comes in, as a "cooler," locally-sourced and healthy lunch option.

Helen Sarakinos, executive director of the nonprofit REAP Food Group, said it was inspired by similar programs across the country.

"They really get the older students excited to eat school lunch," she said. "They're a little bit jaded by the time they're in high school, and this is something fun and interesting, and delicious."

She said the food truck features a different menu than the cafeteria, and kids can pay for the food with a student ID, making it easy for those who get free or discounted meals to eat there. The Uproot Food Truck will spend one day a week at each of the Madison-area high schools.

The REAP Food Group has an ongoing, five-year partnership with the district, focused on healthy, local foods. The truck is an extension of a garden or salad-bar program launched in four Madison-area elementary schools. Sarakinos said that idea was immensely successful.

"Both in terms of kids eating more fruits and vegetables, and how much less waste there was," she said, "that then the school district kind of took ownership of this and pledged to install them in every school."

She said the truck was born because REAP wanted a way to reach older kids, and a food truck has a much higher "cool factor" than the average school lunchroom. The vehicle was free, donated by Roth Cheese, which no longer needed it for marketing.

Sarakinos said it's ultimately about making sure all kids have access to healthy food, which translates to better school performance.

More information is online at reapfoodgroup.org.

Elizabeth Braun, Public News Service - WI