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How Traditional Food Can Create Healthier Schools

The students at Flandreau Indian School (FIS) are embarking on a traditional, yet new, method of preparing healthier foods. What makes this project unique is that students are cooking with buffalo meat for various dishes and developing their own recipes. These types of activities are performed after school or as weekend projects and are structured with information to educate the students about why buffalo meat is a healthier choice.

This project began with a meeting between the Flandreau Santee Sioux Tribe, the Intertribal Bison Cooperative and South Dakota State University to discuss how to bring locally bred organic buffalo from the Intertribal Bison Cooperation to the tribal community. With the help of Acting Food Services Manager Gerriann Hendrick, the Flandreau Indian School students are becoming more mindful about healthier eating habits.  Ms. Hendrick remarked that her eyes were opened when she learned about the rates of obesity and heart disease in the State of South Dakota and that the increased numbers were in counties where the Flandreau Indian School students lived.  Many of the students live in communities with reported poverty rates of 12.9 percent. “In addition to the bison, we’ll offer a variety of fruits and vegetables, including leafy greens and low sodium foods, and leave it up to the students to pick what they want to eat!” said Ms. Hendrick.

Photo by Dr. Padu Krishnan, Professor, Health and Nutritional Sciences Department College of Education and Human Sciences, South Dakota State University

Although the Flandreau Indian School Superintendent Betty Belkham had concerns about the cost of purchasing healthier foods, she knew the menu and diet at her school needed to change. She wanted to introduce her students to more traditional food and knew that buffalo meat was the staple food element of her ancestors prior to contact with European traders and explorers. She believed if the students knew they were eating buffalo meat and were aware of its connection to their heritage, they would want to eat it.

The Intertribal Bison Corporation and the Bureau of Indian Education are proud of the partnership with the Flandreau Indian School. It is the hope of all involved that the Flandreau Indian School can serve as a model for other tribes and their schools in providing organic buffalo to their community members.

(Photo by Dr. Padu Krishnan, Professor, Health and Nutritional Sciences Department College of Education and Human Sciences, South Dakota State University)

The Flandreau Indian School is committed to getting students to think differently about what they eat. It’s appropriate because the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) recently announced the first new school lunch guidelines that will help address childhood obesity rates in this country.  Under this new mandate, school cafeterias will feature more whole grain, fruits and vegetables, and reduce salt, fat and fried foods. These regulations are the first major change to school breakfast and lunch standards in 15 years.  It’s also the first time the USDA has set maximum calories allowed per meal.