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Fridley Public Schools

In an effort to serve more ethnic and culturally diverse lunch items, Fridley Public Schools’ Nutritional Services department is expanding its menus to be more reflective of the district’s student population. For the first time, the Nutritional Services team served sambusas across the district on May 4. Traditionally served in African, Middle Eastern and South Asian countries, sambusas are fried or baked pastries with savory filling. The sambusas were provided by local Hoyo Somali Food Products. Many students were eager to try the Somali sambusas for the first time, while others were excited to see their home culture represented on the school's lunch menu.

In collaboration with the Equity and Inclusion department, the Nutritional Services department gathered high school student feedback prior to implementation.

“We asked our students their thoughts about sambusas, and what kinds of sides they would like to see,” said equity and inclusion coordinator Suzan Samaha. “When it comes to diversifying our foods, we need to ensure we are providing an authentic experience for all students to enjoy, and what better way to learn than by directly asking our students?”

After gathering student feedback, the sambusas were served with a side of rice, as well as a tamarind and date sauce. The traditional sweet and tangy Somali style sauce is made with jalapenos, tamarind concentrate and dates, also a Hoyo Foods product. According to Renee Arbogast, director of Nutritional Services, there are plans to expand the authentic meal next school year to include spiced Somali rice, or bariis iskukaris, by adding local traditional spice mixes and additional ingredients.

Arbogast added that the Nutritional Services team will be utilizing more student voice as they move forward with diversifying the district’s lunch menus. Currently, students in the high school’s Family and Consumer Sciences class provide feedback about new recipes and food items through surveys. Arbogast is looking to expand the reach and regularly engage with student activity groups to gather input on traditional foods and flavors that would ultimately contribute to the inclusive culture at Fridley Schools.

“We want to create an environment where students are excited to try new things, feel represented, and learn from each other, so our school cafés can continue to be a valuable extension of the classroom,” said Arbogast.

As plans develop, Arbogast is interested in furthering the student collaboration piece into an educational opportunity for her staff. “If students are willing, we would love to invite them into our school kitchens to show us how they prepare their traditional foods at home,” said Arbogast.

“From there, we’d work to appropriately source ingredients and establish the recipes so they meet our school nutritional guidelines, while also ensuring that we are providing an authentic experience for students to share with one another.”

Samaha added that taking this step within school cafeterias is incredibly validating for students and families.

“Representation matters, and it is so meaningful to have our school meals reflect our racial, ethnic and cultural diversity of the student body we serve,” she said. “In nearly every culture, food is a means of expressing identity and pride. Filling this representation gap in our school cafes is a vital way to build connections and encourage our scholars to explore culture through food within our International Baccalaureate World Schools.”