Adams 14 one of eight school districts cooking from scratch
posted by: Guest Blogger
Adams County School District 14 made the most comprehensive changes among eight school districts that have switched from serving processed school food to mostly meals cooked from scratch.
The changes made by the districts were outlined in a new report about the effort to cut obesity rates by improving the meals served in Colorado schools.
“My kitchen staff was heating and serving; now they’re really cooking,” said Cindy Veney, manager of nutrition services for Adams 14.
The eight school districts applied to work with LiveWell Colorado — a nonprofit trying to stop rising obesity rates — and through that effort received grants from the Colorado Health Foundation to purchase kitchen equipment such as stoves and walk-in refrigerators.
The report found the eight districts had been serving meals that consisted of about 90 percent processed food. Today, after working with LiveWell, those same school districts prepare between 65 percent and 95 percent of all meals from basic ingredients.
Following that success, the organization has launched a campaign aimed at raising an estimated $28 million needed to help all 178 school districts in the state do the same.
“Our goal by 2022 is that every kid and school staff member in Colorado have access to healthy food in school,” said Venita Currie, program director at LiveWell.
Vail Resorts chief executive Robert Katz and his wife, Elana Amsterdam, kick-started the fundraising call with a $1 million donation this summer.
“The program they designed is not just about giving better food to schools,” Katz said. “It is teaching food workers how to cook better food. For us, it was a bit of the ‘teaching a man to fish’ sort of deal.
“If these school districts are successful, they will have made sustainable long-term change.”
The resources that LiveWell provided to the eight districts included an initial assessment of menus and operational practices — followed by planning changes with chefs and experts.
LiveWell also paid for each district to send cafeteria workers to a one-week boot camp to learn food-handling safety for raw and fresh food, cooking techniques, new recipes and menu planning, among other things.
Most recently, LiveWell’s veteran chefs traveled to schools throughout the year to provide support as districts implemented changes.
The resources encompass what LiveWell identified as the main challenges: money, training and planning, Currie said.
In addition to Adams 14, others that received a grant and made changes were Aurora Public Schools, Garfield RE-2, Roaring Fork RE-1, Montrose RE-1J, Weld County School District 6, Colorado Springs School District 11 and Harrison School District 2.
Though school districts report savings once they’ve implemented from-scratch cooking — in part by cutting down on fees for contractors to process the raw food provided by the federal lunch program — initial startup costs to equip kitchens can be prohibitive.
LiveWell also found that the more successful changes were made gradually with local input.
Veney said that in Adams 14, the community was skeptical of salad bars. But after implementing five in 2011 and seeing good response from students, 11 of the 13 schools in the district now have salad bars as a daily option.
Some of the other changes, she said, were subtle — such as no longer using packaged seasonings.
Other foods — including French fries, pizza, chicken nuggets and flavored milk — have disappeared from most menus.
“Students are seeing that they can eat healthy and get the same taste from foods that aren’t processed,” Veney said.
Yesenia Robles: 303-954-1372, firstname.lastname@example.org or twitter.com/yeseniarobles
Prior to the fall of 2010, a typical menu in Adams County School District 14 looked like this:
• Chicken Nuggets
• French fries
• Canned green beans
• Canned fruit
Today, a menu in District 14 looks like this:
• Whole grain pizza with dough made from scratch, homemade sauce and fresh mozzarella cheese
• Tossed green salad
• Fresh fruit