Byron Center — Vince Sturgis passed out baby carrots during a recent lunchtime at Brown Elementary, and declared loudly his version of a familiar daytime TV refrain: “You get a carrot! You get a carrot! You get a carrot!”
Dressed as his alter ego, Mr. Carrot, Sturgis, whose other job is district food service director, told the first-graders they were going to play a game.
“When I count to three, I want you to hear you crunch as loud as you can,” he said. He counted to three, and the whole cafeteria bit down.
Sturgis brings his children’s book “Lunch Ladies Changing Lives: It’s Crunch Time” to life when he visits schools and re-enacts the crunch contest described in the story.
On his way out of the lunchroom, one first-grader asked Sturgis, “Has anyone tried to take a bite out of you?”
Sturgis replied: “Every other day.”
Making New Foods Fun
Last November, Sturgis was searching for children’s books about lunchroom workers to give as a gift to his staff.
“That book didn’t exist, so I started writing,” he said. “I wrote it as a ‘thank you’ to my lunch staff … I want them to read the book and say, ‘That’s us! That’s what we do.’”
The process of writing his first book was a rollercoaster, Sturgis said, and it took him 27 tries to write a version he was happy with — so it’s a lesson in persistence as well.
He shopped around for a publisher and found 105 Publishing in Austin, Texas. He collaborated with their staff illustrator to depict the lunchroom scenes, and the 34-page book is now available for purchase on Amazon.
Sturgis’ book is dedicated to his three daughters and two grandmothers, Dollie and Alma, who are also the main characters of the book’s story.
“My grandmothers always filled me up with food and made sure we were loved,” he said.
In the story, lunch ladies Dollie and Alma notice their students are not eating all their lunches, so they investigate. Three girls, named after Sturgis’ daughters, tell them they throw away their fruits and vegetables because they haven’t tried them and don’t know if they’ll like them.
Dollie and Alma come up with the idea to dress as carrots and hold a crunch contest to help students try new foods while having fun.
“You can’t make kids eat fruits and vegetables, but you can make it fun,” Sturgis said.
Since joining the district in 2021, Sturgis said his job doesn’t feel like work and he gets to “have fun and be a kid.” He earned the name Mr. Carrot after visiting classrooms in costume and doing cooking demonstrations.
“When the senior leadership team got on board and we all wore costumes to the schools, that was my aha moment, like, ‘this is what I should be doing,’” he said.
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