Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools has reached out to various outside organizations to help it develop, market and serve a more nutritious array of foods in its cafeterias. One of the most successful partnerships has been with the USDA's Food & Nutrition Services Team Nutrition program.
A Team Nutrition grant helped increased exposure to fruits and vegetables to district students by proving education resources, lesson plans and taste testings. Assistant Director Amy Harkey says the department concentrated on dried versions of fruits like mango, papaya, cranberries, cherries and blueberries because they are shelf-stable while remaining highly nutritious, though other additions courtesy of the grant have included fresh items like kiwi fruit and seasonal items like strawberries and melons.
The district works with produce vendor Foster-Caviness to get reasonably priced fresh produce. Nutrition Services Director Cindy Hobbs says she would like to do more local sourcing but price constraints are a barrier. In any case, Foster-Caviness does do some local purchasing when possible to get local product to Charlotte-Mecklenburg school kitchens.
The department has also partnered with area universities like Appalachian State and Winthrop to bring in dietary interns, while the Southeast Dairy Council has helped fund the district's grab-and-go breakfast pilot as well as promotional materials for getting out a healthy eating message. Hobbs is currently exploring an alliance with Johnson & Wales University for internships for culinary students to expose them to potential careers in school nutrition programs.
Perhaps the most high-profile partnerships have been with the local sports teams, the Carolina Panthers of the NFL and the Charlotte Bobcats of the NBA. Players have come to the schools for events to promote nutrition and healthy eating, bringing the kind of star power gets youngsters' attention.