Student’s healthy lunch project results in ‘happy bellies’

  • Monday, December 23, 2013

Academic Magnet High School principal Judith Peterson looks on as student Hannah Manzi presents a check for $1,000 to Crisis Ministries CEO Stacey Denaux. Manzi and the school raised the money by serving healthy lunch choices to students at the high school as part of Manzi’s senior thesis. STAFF PHOTO BY PENNY PARKER


Hannah Manzi, a student at Academic Magnet and a vegetarian, strives to make healthy eating choices. So buying the school lunch in the cafeteria hasn’t been an option for her for a while.

This fall she decided to see if she could change that. For her senior thesis, she worked with the cafeteria staff, the head of Charleston County School District Food Services and Dr. Ann Kulze to devise a plan to implement healthy lunch choices at her school.

She created a new cafeteria lunch menu to sell to students once a week for six weeks. One day each week she set up “build your own” food bars. Different choices were offered each week and varied from salad and burritos to sweet potatoes and pasta. A yogurt bar was included also. Students had multiple choices for toppings, sauces and dressings.

Dr. Kulze helped her with recipes and ideas on what items to serve. She worked with Walter Campbell, head of CCSD Food Services to order, prepare, cut up and cook the food. The school cafeteria manager and staff also assisted in preparing the food.

The sweet potato bar included items such as asparagus, cinnamon, honey and brown sugar. The salad bar contained option like Romaine lettuce, mesclun greens, black beans, sunflower seeds, carrots, croutons, tomatoes, cucumbers, bell peppers, Mandarin oranges and a choice of healthy dressings.

She named her lunch venture “Happy Belly Foods,” and approximately 450 students were served. The once-a week healthy lunch option averaged 76 customers a week.

“We’ll use Hannah’s research on what kids like as far as healthy food choices go as we roll out new lunch choices from school to school next year,” Campbell said. The district food services is testing entire new menus for next year. “Students really want a salad bar. We learned that from Hannah’s research.” They will be serving Salanova lettuce, a very nutritious lettuce locally grown by Jimmy Cobb at his farm in Reevesville.

“Hannah’s project created a lot of buzz. It showed us what students will buy,” Campbell added. “Even if a students only buys the school lunch once a week, it’s good.

Helping others

The majority of the food was purchased through Charleston County School District (CCSD) Food Services, and a profit of around $1,000 resulted from the project. When Campbell learned that Manzi was going to donate any profits she made from selling the food, he donated the cost of the food, making it possible for Hannah to give a check to Crisis Ministries. This charity focuses on easing hunger in the Lowcountry and is also looking to offer healthier choices.

“There are a lot of tongs to this fork,”said Judith Peterson, principal of Academic Magnet High School. “What these theses are meant to do is to connect kids to the real world through research and betterment.

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