“You have to plant before you harvest, and the seeds were planted for the Game Day Meal some time ago, to ensure that this harvest will be ready for all of you.” — Russell Redding
Hundreds of students gathered in a conference room at Mt. Lebanon High School today to hear from Pennsylvania Secretary of Agriculture Russell Redding, who traveled to Mt. Lebanon for the unveiling of the new Game Day Meals program, developed in the Mt. Lebanon School District, but will soon reach 50,000 students statewide. The program began when district food service director Nolen Fetchko connected with the University of Pittsburgh’s Director of Dining Services, Joe Beaman, to start incorporating sports nutrition principles at Mt. Lebanon.
“We wanted to start with an education piece, and then begin incorporating it in the cafeteria,” says Fetchko. He originally presented the idea at the final Pittsburgh Regional Food Service Directors (PRESD) meeting with Beaman in May. They gathered input from their colleagues before taking the steps to build out the program, which would ultimately feature dietitian-approved meals to enhance sports, arts and academic performance on “game days,” or every Friday of the school year.
Fetchko developed a preliminary menu of recipes that can be easily duplicated by other districts, including Korean beef over rice and roasted vegetables, grilled chicken, Philly cheese steak and BBQ chicken grilled cheese sandwiches and pulled pork street tacos. Each meal features local farm-to-table ingredients—all minimally processed with a focus on whole grains and fruits and vegetables—prepared fresh each Friday.
“We are building a Menu Committee of dietitians and food service directors across Pennsylvania to carry the program forward, but [Fetchko] developed the first round,” says Beaman. Other districts such as Gateway, Pittsburgh Public Schools and Uniontown also debuted this program today, using Fetchko and Beaman’s model. More are expected to roll out the program across the state later in the fall.
In Mt. Lebanon, students got their first taste of the program in August, when Auburn Weisensale, the director of nutrition for the University of Pittsburgh’s Athletic Department, presented to all fall athletes and marching band members about how to properly fuel their bodies before, during and after important events. Then today, the entire school got a literal taste when Fetchko’s Korean beef over rice kicked off the very first Friday Game Day Meal of the year.
“It was good, and I’m glad the school has something to help me eat better foods and the right times,” says Eddie Kubit, a senior Mt. Lebanon football player. The Korean beef was a delicious meal—far beyond the standard you would expect from a school cafeteria— featuring tender cuts of beef, a flavorful sauce and a robust medley of locally sourced grilled vegetables on a bed of brown rice.
“It’s not just for athletes. It’s for band members, the color guard, the theater program, or students that have a hard test coming up,” says Mt. Lebanon Superintendent Timothy Steinhauer.
“Every school thinks they are normal. Every teacher. Every student. But what you are doing here in Mt. Lebanon is truly extraordinary,” says Redding. “You cannot feed a hungry mind on an empty stomach. It takes a lot of energy to think and act. And this will help you be great performers as students and on the field.”