For centuries, lamb has been the predominant source of protein for much of the world, including Asia, Northern Africa and Europe. Yet in the U.S., children may go their entire lives without knowing what lamb tastes like and what kind of meals one can cook with it.
This year, the food service directors for Kentwood, Grand Rapids and Kelloggsville schools partnered with the Michigan State University Extension, the Michigan Sheep Breeders Association, the MSU Center for Regional Food Systems, Wolverine Packing Co., and Gordon Food Services to provide students at those schools with an opportunity to try lamb dishes.
At Kentwood Public Schools, 1,000 students from its five middle and high schools lined up April 18th to enjoy Kofta calzone, pizza and baked Kofta patties. Kofta is seasoned ground lamb shaped into patties.
Kentwood’s Food Service Director Mo Shamali said many students in the district come from countries where lamb is very popular. So the program gave students the opportunity to enjoy a meal they’re accustomed to with friends who might not have tried it before.
“Some of the kids that are familiar with it would tell their friend ‘Hey man, you should try it, you’d like it. That’s how it’s done at home’ or ‘That’s how my mom or dad makes it.’ So it was a good selling point to have a student that was familiar with it.”
The program has been in the works for months, and came as Shamali, who is originally from Jordan, and GRPS Food Service Director Paul Baumgartner, discussed ways to include Michigan-grown products in school lunches.
“Paul and I were brainstorming last year after school was over and talked about having a common food that the world can celebrate with unity. Sometimes lamb is a sign of peace and is a common food. And Michigan is among the top seven producers of lamb.”
Shamali developed the recipes and held a workshop with his staff on how to prepare and serve the meals before serving it.
The day of the lunch, students were encouraged to try the meal. If they didn’t like it, they were asked to bring it back so they could get something different, Shamali said.
“I’m excited to see that it was so successful. The kids absolutely loved it, it reminded them of something that looks like pizza but doesn’t taste like it. Everyone who took the meal did not bring it back.”
Shamali said they hope to repeat the program next year.