You’ve heard that it’s good for people and the planet to eat local. But did you know that applies to school meals, too?

When schools buy and serve foods from local farmers and other producers, they help build resilient local economies and increase access to nourishing foods for the whole community. Locally sourced food requires less fuel to transport, and therefore has a smaller environmental impact than food that travels a longer distance. And local food is fresh and therefore more nutrient-dense—an important factor for growing bodies and minds.

Finally, offering locally sourced food gives kids a chance to learn more about where their food comes from, connect with producers, and care about their role in the food system. Local food is a win-win-win for kids, schools, and communities.

Do school meals use local ingredients?

The short answer: yes! School nutrition teams across the country partner with local farmers and food producers to create meals that are fresh, nutritious, delicious, and culturally affirming. While every school nutrition team has different resources and funding available to access local ingredients, we commend all school nutrition professionals who find creative ways to serve nourishing meals.

Here are five delicious school lunches that spotlight locally sourced ingredients:

A beige school lunch tray placed on a red outdoor table. On the tray is a fajita steak and pepper sandwich, a handful of snap peas, a small salad, and some locally sourced strawberries and carrots.
Photo by Stephanie Towner

This special school lunch served during Rio School District‘s Compost Tea Party features an array of locally sourced California ingredients.

The main course of this lunch is a fajita steak sandwich on a fresh-baked brioche bun. The steak is California-raised grass-fed beef sourced from Watkins Ranch Butcher Shop in Ojai, while the bun was baked using California-grown wheat at Roan Mills Bakery in Fillmore. The veggies were sourced from Alcantar Family Farms, and the fruits from Edgar Espinoza of McGrath Family Farm, Firesign Farm Bakersfield, and Mendez Produce.  

A black school lunch tray featuring a small dish of pesto pasta and asparagus, an orange, salad greens, and a piece of bread.

At Boyne Falls Elementary, a graduated FoodCorps school in Michigan, this school lunch uses fresh greens as the building blocks for a delicious meal. This tray features a main course of pasta with house-made pesto, and locally procured asparagus and salad greens on the side.

A beige school lunch tray on a wooden lunch table. On the tray are a chicken thigh sitting atop brown rice, orange and persimmon, a dollop of guacamole and sauce, and an array of local veggies.
Photo courtesy of Wenona Kei Shmull

Through initiatives like Harvest of the Month, California’s Rio School District finds plenty of opportunities to highlight locally grown and procured foods. This tray features California-raised, free-range chicken thighs with a flavorful chipotle rub, southwest salad and tri-colored bell peppers from Laubacher Farms, and a Harvest of the Month persimmon salad with valencia oranges from Friends Ranch.

A white plate with a serving of pork, rice and plantains, with a small salad in the background.
Photo courtesy of Sam Wilson and Alex Leigh of New London Public Schools and Brigaid

Locally sourced pork is the star of this lunch served in New London Public Schools in Connecticut. This traditional Puerto Rican dish of pernil (slow-roasted pork shoulder), arroz con gandules, and roasted plantains was developed by staff from New London Public Schools food services. The pork is sourced from Secchiaroli Farm in Waterford, the same farm where the school cafeteria’s compost is sent.

A green lunch tray with a foil-wrapped sandwich, a portion of blueberries, a portion of bean salad and a portion of baby carrots.

This school lunch tray from Portland Public Schools in Maine features locally grown blueberries from Passamaquoddy Blueberry Company, a local Passamaquoddy Tribe-owned business in the state, alongside a sandwich and fresh bean salad and veggies. 

Got an example of a gorgeous school lunch to share? Post it on social media and tag @foodcorps!

Related read: USDA’s Proposed Rule for School Meals Shines a Light on Local | “Buying food directly from local farmers and suppliers has many benefits, including more reliability and fewer supply chain disruptions (even during COVID). Purchasing directly from producers also keeps food dollars in the community, stimulating the local economy. Even better is that building those local relationships cultivates community and a direct line of communication between schools and food suppliers. Local producers can choose crops and ensure inventory that are most relevant as schools build their menus.”