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Adams 14 one of eight school districts cooking from scratch

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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, yrobles@denverpost.com or twitter.com/yeseniarobles

Menu changes

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

Yesenia Robles

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Comments
  • comment avatar Cathy September 12, 2012

    what about good old PHYSICAL ED …. I think it would be interesting to know the satistics comparing the kids WHEN we had PE to NOW when the schools have “cut” the program…….just saying.

  • comment avatar Megan September 12, 2012

    Now if “we” can teach and encourage parents to follow suite! Although every goal begins with one step in the right direction, it is accomplished through many steps. Parents are a HUGE step in the fight to cut obesity and childhood obesity!

  • comment avatar Ida September 12, 2012

    its about time, give children real food

  • comment avatar Tammy September 12, 2012

    Finally a proactive solution!!!

  • comment avatar Arlene September 12, 2012

    This is what we need for all schools.

  • comment avatar Renae September 12, 2012

    it’s just a step in the right direction – there’s many more steps that need to be taken

  • comment avatar Janet September 12, 2012

    It will take time, but should be beneficial. Greeley-Evans District 6 also does this.

  • comment avatar Abbey September 12, 2012

    I would like to ask you to do a research on when they changed from “made from scratch” to canned and prepackage food and why they believed it was better for the children in schools.

  • comment avatar Chrissy September 12, 2012

    Less meat, no white rice or flour.

  • comment avatar Chrissy September 12, 2012

    Yes!!! Along with some active play it will definitely make a difference. I hope other districts & parents follow in this direction

  • comment avatar Melissa September 12, 2012

    Cooking from scratch is always better! There’s always a lot of extra ingredients in processed food that aren’t needed.

  • comment avatar Melissa September 12, 2012

    In weld county schools my 8th grader barely has 5 minutes to eat by the time they get their food. Kids need to know healthy diets & eating habits AND P.E.

  • comment avatar Sandy September 12, 2012

    How about putting more PE & recess time? Maybe the older ways we try so hard to avoid really aren’t so totally bad.

  • comment avatar Natasha September 12, 2012

    That is soooo awesome!! I think more districts should follow suit.

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