The Baltimore City Public School System reached another milestone in its pledge to provide healthier food options to students. Beginning next school year, culinary arts students will prepare dinner for their peers, who lack access to a healthy supper at home. The program is the first of its kind in the country.

“These kids are making history,” said Anthony Geraci, BCPS director of food and nutrition. “It’s the first time in the country that kids are preparing meals for other students.”

One thousand meals a day will be prepared by the student cooks. Some of the menu items will be planted, harvested and grown by students themselves from the Great Kids Farm in Baltimore County.

Located in Catonsville, students visit the 33-acre farm as their own laboratory for cultivating the food they serve.

“We’re growing fruit, we’re growing vegetables, we have goats, we have chickens, we have bees,” said Mike Thomas, BCPS Office of Learning to Work director. “Our students can go out and get real experience in environmental science. We’re providing them with pathways to college and pathways to careers. ”

Launched at Carver Vocational-Technical High School, the program, said BCPS CEO Andrés Alonso, is part of the district’s food reform efforts. He recalled visiting a school cafeteria and talking with a student who enjoyed eating the first fresh peach she’d ever had.

“These are the kinds of things that are beginning to happen,” Alonso said. “I think that providing our kids with healthy food choices is critical to their success in school. Nutrition in schools is beginning to change the culture in our schools.”

In the past two years, BCPS has made several changes to provide more nutritional food to its students. “Meatless Mondays” were recently introduced in order to provide a vegetarian option for lunch and a majority of bread/dough products are at least 50 percent whole wheat. More food is being locally grown and served, which helps provide students with fresher meals.

Average daily breakfast participation has gone up 32 percent this year, from 19,000 in April 2009 to 25,000 last month. Lunch participation increased 26 percent in the same timeline, from 38,000 to 48,000. With the approval of the supper program, students can look forward to a third healthy meal.

“This is really important for us,” Carver principal Kirk Sykes said. “We have been talking about ways in which our students can give back to their peers. Not every student has access to a healthy meal at home. We’re happy to be a part of that.”

Students will also be given the opportunity to become active in the planning and development of school lunch menus. By going online, students will be able to design meals using ingredients the district already has to create a variety of foods. The district is also encouraging the inclusion of more ethnic lunch items such as African, Caribbean and Asian food.

“Baltimore City is leading the country in nutrition reform,” Geraci said. “Our vision is to create a central kitchen so we’re creating healthy meals from head start to hospice to help the whole city.”