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Education

Retired NFL lineman became the ‘lunch man’ at his kids' school to promote healthy eating

jared veldheer, school lunches, arizona cardinals

Jared Veldheer goes from lineman to lunch man.

Jared Veldheer played 11 seasons as an offensive lineman in the NFL from 2010 to 2020, spending most of his playing career with the Oakland Raiders and Arizona Cardinals. The 6' 8" Veldheer was known for his incredible size, weighing as much as 330 pounds during the height of his career.

Veldheer was so large that he even stood out while standing next to other NFL linemen.



After Veldheer retired, he began looking for a new career path that allowed him to follow his passions. In August 2021, he learned that St. Paul the Apostle School in Grand Rapids, Michigan, where both his children attend, was in need of someone to manage the school’s kitchen.

The former NFL star had been advising the school’s principal about nutrition and when the job opened up he asked to be considered. Veldheer has a lifelong love of food that started when he was a child. If he didn’t like the lunch his mother made, he would make his own.

"I've always liked cooking," Veldheer told ESPN. "I wasn't sure if I wanted to, you know, be the school lunch lady, but anyway, gave it some thought and I was like, I'm kind of looking for something to do with my time. It's not a bad gig time-commitment wise. I'm around my kids. So I just kind of went for it.”

Now, the former NFL star who earned millions in his career makes $15 an hour and works from 7:45 a.m. to around 1 p.m.

Veldheer is passionate about changing the perceptions surrounding school lunches. "We are able to kind of break the traditional route of school food that looks like just a hunk of frozen corn and a big old rectangular piece of pizza,” he told WZZM13.

Since the former athlete took over, the school has broken from the usual lunch menu standards of chicken nuggets and pizza. Instead, it's added more exotic fare, including beef bulgogi, chicken tikka masala, smoked carnitas and chimichurri flank steak.

Overall, his mission is "to nourish developing humans."

"A lot of kids just eat crap," he said. "I think we live in a time where a lot of kids just kind of get by with snacking all the time with just processed crap in the cupboard. So, it's like, if I can just make it my goal to give them one nourishing meal, then that's good."

The man who once guarded the blind side of quarterbacks such as Carson Palmer and Aaron Rodgers now protects his students’ health by eliminating as many seed oils and simple sugars from their diets as possible.

Even though Veldheer is completely dedicated to his new job, the parents and faculty at the school can’t help but chuckle a little when they see the 6' 8" former lineman serving up lunch.

"A picture's worth a thousand words on this," St. Paul the Apostle principal Michelle Morrow said. "I'm grinning ear-to-ear just picturing and seeing what I get to see every day, the kids looking straight up to him yet can feel so comfortable and confident in asking him questions and trying different foods, and really figuring out what he's doing.”

You better believe that when Veldheer asks the kids to take another bite of their meal they listen.

"He'll go in the cafeteria and be like, 'Alright, everybody, I want you to take a bite of those beans. I made them special for you,'" Molly Cotter, who has three kids at the school said. "And boy, did they do it."

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