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From left, Aaron Casper, Debjyoti “DD” Dwivedy and Fadumo Hassan at the Oct. 3 school board candidate forum.

Nine of the 10 candidates for Eden Prairie School Board attended a community conversation and listening session about school nutritional policy on Oct. 15, according to one of the hosts of the event.

Jenn Krajacic and Emily Colaizy, who are the moderators of a Facebook group titled Eden Prairie Lunch Reform, hosted the event, which drew around 20 people (including candidates) to Tavern 4&5 on the evening of Oct. 15, Krajacic told Eden Prairie News in a phone interview. The purpose of the event was to hear candidates’ thoughts on school nutritional programs and share residents’ thoughts with the candidates, she added.

Eden Prairie News asked each of the candidates what their takeaways from the evening were and how school nutrition factors into their goals and priorities as would-be School Board members. Below are summaries and quotes from candidates’ responses. Full responses are online at edenprairienews.com. Erin Barstad did not attend the event and did not reply to Eden Prairie News’ request for comment.

Debjyoti “DD” Dwivedy noted that sub-optimal nutrition programs can affect a district’s competitiveness and can lead to “high attrition rates in our enrollments” and recommended that Eden Prairie not “reinvent the wheel.” Instead, the district should observe nutrition programs in surrounding districts and implement best practices in its own schools. “If I have the honor to represent the community in the Eden Prairie School Board, it would be my first two priorities to get started working with,” Dwivedy wrote.

Esra Riggs approached the issue as a mother with a 5th grader, she wrote. One of her motivations to run for office is to increase the district’s food quality and time students have to eat and play at recess, she said. The district should serve “only healthy food options” and offer health and wellness programming to all students to cover topics like “nutrition, food preparation and making healthy choices,” Riggs said. Schools should partner with local farmers and nutrition experts and reduce food waste, as well as support families struggling to afford lunch that may not qualify for free or reduced-price lunches, which would help close the achievement gap by addressing malnutrition and food insecurity, she added. “If elected, I would be one of the four votes need on the School Board to turn this initiative into an Eden Prairie School District policy,” she wrote.

Veronica Stoltz compared Eden Prairie to other districts, which may be paying lower rates for better lunches, she wrote. She recommended forming partnerships outside the district and leaving the “My Plate” program, which she said “requires kids to take certain food items even if they have no intention of eating them.” Schools should hire more staff to handle preparation of fresh food and cut down on lunchroom lines, she said. “I will consistently advocate for best practices with a primary focus on the well-being of our kids,” Stoltz wrote.

Adam Seidel cited his past involvement with nutrition improvements during his four years on the School Board, although he’s “not satisfied that we’re done working in some areas, including meal time,” he wrote. He pointed to the importance of nutrition to students’ health and education and meeting with parents who have “brought forward some information and comparisons with other districts’ nutrition programs that absolutely merit further work and investigation,” he said. “If I’m re-elected, I will continue to push for finding ways to improve our nutritional offerings,” Seidel wrote.

Fadumo Hassan‘s main takeaway from the meeting was that the “we are heading in the right direction(s),” she wrote. Nutrition has been on her mind for a while, she said, and after working in schools, she has seen “lunches paid by parents go into the trash and kids were still hungry because they didn’t like their lunch,” Hassan said. As a single mother, it’s hard to find time to pack alternate lunches for her children, she added, and if neighboring districts can implement healthier nutrition plans, so can Eden Prairie. “If I get elected into the school board I would be open to partner with parents and advocate for healthy school meals,” Hassan wrote.

Aaron Orwick supports improvements for lunch offerings, he said. He packs lunches for his students when he feels that school lunches aren’t healthy enough, he added, but if things like mozzarella sticks and cheese bread are replaced with healthier options, he’d rely more on school lunches. He also noted that he’d recently learned a committee had recently “changed how it handles unfunded lunch balances,” which have historically had a low impact on district finances, he wrote. “The nutrition and the school lunch program fits well with this, and is a priority for me,” Orwick wrote.

Aaron Casper‘s main takeaway was “the need for there to be clear goals and objectives” around lunch reform, he wrote. He supports nutritious options for students, he said, noting that some families don’t have the option of packing a lunch when the school’s menu didn’t agree with them. He listed a required personal finance class for all students, adding trade and labor education options and providing students with the resources they need for success after high school as his top three priorities. If elected, “I will continue to listen to our community on this topic and apply a pragmatic approach to addressing their concerns and suggestions,” Casper wrote.

Krystal Queen said that every lunch program in the country can improve, and while Eden Prairie is meeting all local, state and federal guidelines, there’s room to improve. She would collaborate with parents and the lunch reform group, she said, and with the district’s nutritional department, administration, staff and school board. It’s important to keep the budget in mind, she added, and think about what other local districts are doing so as not to reinvent the wheel. As a former athlete and as a “single mother of three multiracial student-athletes, it is important to have the knowledge, resources and opportunities to live a healthy active lifestyle,” Queen wrote. “Educating our youth on nutrition and providing nutritional options is important in all aspects of their physical, emotional, social and psychological development.”

Albert Born said processed food was a problem in Eden Prairie lunchrooms. He listed a lack of fresh food, limited options for vegetarian and vegan diets, high sugar and sodium content and a reliance on dairy as things he’d like to change. “Food should be fresh. We don’t hire kitchen staff to hand out prepackaged garbage,” he wrote. “Most of our staff have the talent and skills to prepare and serve fresh food. Let’s give them the resources and tools to put their talent to use.” Born suggested minimizing waste by implementing sharing tables, recycling and portion control as possibilities. “We also need to keep budget in check and find a realistic solution to unpaid lunches and understand why this is happening,” Born wrote.

Eden Teller is a reporter for Eden Prairie News.

Eden Teller is the multimedia reporter for Eden Prairie News. She's passionate about fostering productive conversations and empowering communities. When she's not reporting, she can be found reading a book, on a hike or tackling home improvement projects.

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