School Food on the Frontlines: It’s been a COVID year for April Liles and her leadership style!

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April Liles, RD, SNS, has been the Child Nutrition Program Director in Waltham (Massachusetts) School District for 7 years. The district has about 5,500 students and, pre-COVID, 51 percent were eligible for free/reduced meals. They have been fully remote until two weeks ago (serving over 1 million meals) and now gearing up to have all students back in the building on April 5. This March 19, 2021, Facebook post helps to tell the year-of-COVID19 story in Waltham Public Schools: This picture was from one year ago and honestly, we didn’t know much. We didn’t know to wear masks, stay distanced or how this pandemic would change the world forever. What we did know is – WE MUST FEED THE CHILDREN! And thus – we did just that. Over and over again each week, into the summer and into this entire school year. It is what we have always done and so we moved forward together into the unknown.

March 19, 2020: 1st emergency meal service BEFORE masks, PPE & social distancing

What was the biggest challenge that you had to overcome in the past year?

As a nutrition director, April has always been focused on food and people. Her biggest COVID19 challenge was people piece – the 70 employees of her department who had not signed up to be frontline, essential ‘heroes.’ She says that her pandemic experience has been, and still is, transformative in terms of leadership style – life-changing in both professional and personal ways. April has learned how to step back, and let employees move to the front, perform and do what they have trained to do: “I am so proud and humbled by my team’s readiness to just do the work.” 

The WPS Food and Nutrition Team – in the times BEFORE Masks and Social Distancing

What achievement are you the proudest of in the past year?

Noting that you are nothing without your team, April is proud of being able to maintain staffing and keeping entire nutrition Food and Nutrition Services on the payroll. They were able to feed the families of the city well because of their teamwork. And they have amped up their sanitation protocols in response to pandemic precautions, involving teamwork with building custodians to be “impeccably clean and sanitized.”

Teamwork is also what allowed WPS to maintain the integrity of meals delivered as curbside kits rather than on trays in cozy cafeterias. This also required letting go – no more colorful salad bars and delightful food art – and a new focus on “Build Your Own” instructions for items like parfaits and trendy tortilla hacks. April and her RDN partner Haylee Dussault continue to create home-run meal kits by introducing other on-trend items like Korean Bibimbap.

What innovation have you made that you will continue using in the future?

April is eager to expand their in-school offerings with carts and kiosks in the hallways and enhanced deliveries to classrooms. Her staff is energized to try new things and building administrators are now wanting to sit down and talk about it. Bulk meals outside school day have become a reality – for weekend and vacation meals as well as virtual learners. Of course, she definitely plans to keep the new super-sanitation procedures in place as well.

Weekly Meal Kit: Combination of prepared meals and DIY items

School Food on the Frontlines: It’s been a COVID year for Angie, Maria and Roseville schools!

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Angie Richey, MPH, RD, SNS (Supervisor) and Maria Anderson, MS, RD, SNS (Coordinator) manage two public school districts and five joint agreement schools north of Minneapolis-St. Paul. Their district with the highest need, Roseville Area Schools, serve 7,300 students, down a few hundred from pre-pandemic levels when 47 percent of students qualified for free/reduced meals. Since March 2020 they have provided daily meal pickups at bus stops and schools curbside, plus home delivery via two trucks and a bus (a total of 919,000+ meals thru January 2021). They are just beginning to bring secondary (7-12) students back into buildings and are planning to continue meals for virtual learners as necessary.

What was the biggest challenge that you had to overcome in the past year?

Angie and Maria agree that the “mental load” of the pandemic was a big challenge. It was difficult – and scary – to keep 80 staff members safe, feeling valued and motivated. There was also an issue with monotony: Pre-COVID the district had been digging deep into scratch cooking, processing fresh veggies and introducing new items to students. With a 3-three week menu cycle and all meals being prepacked, workers were bored – handing out meals curbside was a coveted position because you could see students! Realizing the problem enabled Angie and Maria to provide hazard-pay for some positions – and to encourage changes like relaxation of the uniform policy and smaller celebrations like Hawaii Day. A little fun went a long way to improving attitudes!

Hawaii Day lifts spirits during a Minnesota winter

What achievement are you the proudest of in the past year?

By taking an equity lens to food distribution, Roseville Area Schools were able support a food security safety net for entire community, especially for the most vulnerable families. They were able to ensure that no students fell through the cracks – and, through partnerships, like Second Harvest Heartland food bank and Minnesota Central Kitchen (employing laid-off restaurant workers), to feed families as well with Roseville Family Table Meals. Since many families in the district had little to no kitchen equipment, Angie and Maria made the decision to provide microwaveable meals rather than kits.

Fortunately, they have still been able to use local foods from farmers and producers within 300 miles of Roseville. Their meals are loaded with local carrots, green beans, radishes, apples and more (when seasonally available). They have also been able to continue a partnership with Ferndale Market to provide local turkey wieners and hot dogs. They know that supporting local growers is even more important during difficult times when many restaurant outlets have been closed. Angie and Maria’s future plans include more direct purchasing, more local grains and processed foods, and more Minnesota Thursday meals.

Microwaveable meals introduce new products and foods to Roseville families

What innovation have you made that you will continue using in the future?

Roseville Area School Nutrition Services plans to continue a renewed focus on food security and its greater impact in the lives of women – at home and in the workforce. They plan to expand their partnership with the high school-based Food Shelf Program  to help connect families with more than just food needs. Looking forward, their motto is “if our Nutrition Services Department cannot fill a gap, we will partner with those who can.”

Winter meals bundles include new offerings to combat menu fatigue

School Food on the Frontlines: It’s been a COVID year for Christine and and the SCH team!

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Christine Clarahan, MS, SNS, RDN, has been the director in the School City of Hammond, Department of Food and Nutrition, for 4 years. The district, in a suburb of Chicago located in Indiana, has just under 13,000 students and operated as a CEP district pre-COVID, serving breakfast to about 50 percent of students and lunch to over 80 percent. Starting April 6th the district will have about 20 percent of students in face-to-face learning and 80 percent are attending school virtually. While the district has been 100% virtual, meals have been delivered via 10 curbside sites and 8 bus delivery routes.

What was the biggest challenge that you had to overcome in the past year?

Without hesitancy, Christine says communication was the biggest challenge she faced during COVID19. Communication with 140 staff members was a top priority – but many of her staff members did not have easy access to email, several did not even own smartphones. Communication with families had to be bilingual in Spanish and English. Like her staff, many families did not have reliable access to electronic devices; they were often confused with week-to-week changes in the beginning; and sometimes understandably worried about having enough food for their families. Customer relations could be quite difficult and clear communication became even more essential, using radio and newspapers in addition to digital channels.

Celebrating Team Work

What achievement are you the proudest of in the past year?

Christine is justifiably proud that her department worked as team focused on the goal of feeding kids. We had a job to do and we did it without complaining. Things were hard, sometimes things went wrong, but we did the best we could. Clarahan was able to keep all staff members on the payroll and to help them know that they were all in this together with a common goal. She made certain to share all the positive feedback she received and to emphasize that self-care was essential.

Everyone, even the director, had the grace to have things go haywire. Christine related an incident where she was measuring the temperature a large of amount of milk, which she managed to spill all over her office. Even after a very thorough clean up, she can find evidence of the spill with a drop here or there. It always reminds her “not to cry over spilled milk” because, even on a very messy day, the students got fed.

Recognizing employee contributions and their dedication to feeding kids

What innovation have you made that you will continue using in the future?

Describing herself as “giddy as a kid,” Christine is thrilled about the refrigerated van that they will be getting to deliver meals to virtual students in the future – expanding on the bus routes they were able to do the last 12 months while students were out of the buildings. She was able to secure the funds from Chicago’s Fago de Chão and has big plans for the van even when most students have returned to in-school learning. The ‘silver lining’ vehicle to the SCH Department of Food and Nutrition will show up at summer feeding sites, back-to-school nights and other events for years to come.

Refrigerated van purchase with funds from Chicago’s Fago de Chã

School Food on the Frontlines: It’s been a COVID year for Caitlin and her community!

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Caitlin Lazarski, MS, RD, SNS, has been the Nutrition Director at Newburgh Enlarged City School District (70 miles north of New York City) for 7 years. The district has approximately 12,000 students, serving 7,500 breakfasts and 8,000 lunches under CEP prior to COVID. Providing meals for hybrid learners in classrooms and curbside delivery for all virtual students, the department served 250,000 meals in February 2021.

What was the biggest challenge that you had to overcome in the past year?

Like many of her colleagues, Caitlin Lazarski says that being able to change quickly is an ongoing challenge. While the initial months of the pandemic necessitated many changes in service models, the department is now seeing weekly shifts in participation as students return to classes – depending on weather and now daylight savings time. She is very thankful for a distributor that understands her need for flexibility, where an open line of communication is literally a lifeline!

What achievement are you the proudest of in the past year?

Lazarski is very proud of – and grateful for – newly found connections with her community. She has always emphasized the department’s connections with students (“we are the only school staff members who see every student, every day‘). During COVID school nutrition has been able to touch more families and more parts of the community. Last spring they tried their regular summer feeding distribution which did not work. Participation dropped dramatically, leading to the layoff of all foodservice staff. As a “hometown girl” (both Caitlin and her husband work and grew up in the district), she started to do more outreach, explaining the benefits of emergency meals for everyone. This did work and she has seen a ground swell of support along with increasing participation.

School Breakfast, specifically breakfast after the bell, has been a focus in Newburgh for several years (pre-pandemic breakfast and lunch participation was almost equal). Caitlin was not about to give up on breakfast excellence even with multiple service models. Breakfast in Classroom continued for in-school learners and Goldback meal kits (building on a district-wide brand) included fresh strawberries and yogurt for DIY smoothies. Clearly Newburgh School Meals knows how to Score Big with School Breakfast under any circumstances!

Goldback 10-Day Break Menu includes Heat&Eat and Kit Items

What innovation have you made that you will continue using in the future?

While she acknowledges that it is not really an innovation, Caitlin hopes that her staff will be able to hold onto a new-found sense of teamwork. One ‘silver lining’ of COVID is that it changed how the staff feels about departmental leadership – they realized that Caitlin was with them, that she was fighting for them, protecting them and that she really cared about them. Working together in all sorts of challenging new situations, especially variable curbside conditions, also reinforced that everyone has each other’s backs.

School Food on the Frontlines: It’s been a COVID year for Erin Primer, personally, professionally!

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Erin Primer, CDM, CFPP, has been Food at Nutrition Services Director the San Luis Coastal Unified School District (SLCUSD) for five years. SLCUSD serves 7,500 students (35 percent free/reduced pre-lockdown, now approximately 40 percent) and served 30,000 per week before schools closed in March 2020. The district is a mostly agricultural area surrounding the city of San Luis Obispo and several small towns on the Central Coast of California.

Local farms in SLCUSD provide fresh options for pantry kits

What was the biggest challenge that you had to overcome in the past year?

If you had asked Erin Primer a year ago, “Can you operate SLCUSD Food and Nutrition Services from your home?,” she would have said that you were bonkers. And yet, that is exactly what she has done. Because she is immune-compromised, Erin had doctor’s orders to stay home. She has had to provide 100 percent remote leadership for 25 employees scattered in 15 schools throughout SLO county. While this has necessitated many changes, it has worked – and worked well! From March 2020 through February 2021, SLCUSD Nutrition Services provided one million meals to district families through drive-up, curbside locations. While Erin says she occasionally feels like the Wizard of Oz behind the curtain, she has learned how to lead successfully and maintain trust in non-physical ways.

One challenging year, one MILLION meals provided

What achievement are you the proudest of in the past year?

Ms. Primer is proud of her department’s resilience noting that school foodservice in general has not always been known for moving quickly or for being change makers. In SLCUSD Erin now knows that they are capable of responding to changes positively and they can literally do anything. Going into lockdown, many of her staff members were understandably afraid; now they now believe in their abilities to pivot quickly and effectively – even when “the boss” is not able to be present in person. Nutrition Services staff have learned to trust Erin and to trust themselves. This has led to some remarkable transformations – in their attitudes and in the foods they serve.

What innovation have you made that you will continue using in the future?

Trust is very important to Erin Primer and she has worked for five years to build trusting relationships with local families and with local agricultural producers. She recognized that the pandemic lockdown presented opportunities as well as challenges – and that school food was going to be a frontline issue for families, farmers and ranchers. SLCUSD has always offered local foods and now they are laser focused on plant-forward, climate-friendly food options. All their weekly pantry-kits are packed with the freshest food possible and multiple serving ideas even for those with limited resources.

Creativity and taste will continue to be the focus of SCLUSD pantry boxes and in-school offerings. Erin has always wanted to move vegetarian options beyond boring cheese pizza – and she taken every opportunity to serve options like Thai Basil Lentil burgers, sandwiches with Strawberry Chia Jam and Jujube Snacks along with multi-colored radishes and beets (usually very locally-grown). Students and their families have become more willing to try things out because “they trust us. We have invited so many more folks into our program with school food that tastes great and supports the community.” Nutrition and culinary education, including National Nutrition Month Drive-Thru BINGO, are an important part of the ongoing plan as SLCUSD Nutrition Services continues to expand plant-forward, planet-friendly school food.

School Food on the Frontlines: It’s been a COVID year for Laura-Zelda and her RDN Team!

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Laura-Zelda S. Villarreal, MBA, RDN, LD, SNS, has been Director of Food & Nutrition Services for Brownsville ISD for 20 months – 12 months of that during the COVID-19 pandemic! Brownsville is city of 181,000 located on the Texas-Mexico border. The district serves 40,000+ students under CEP. Pre-pandemic they served approximately 30,000 breakfasts and 35,000 lunches; currently their ADP is about 10,000.

What was the biggest challenge that you had to overcome in the past year?

According to Villarreal, the biggest challenge was implementing COVID safety procedures when even the terminology was foreign. What does PPE stand for? Where do I purchase it? How can I get enough for my staff? With a million calls, strong support from the local Educational Service Center (ESC) and navigating a very steep learning curve, she was able to get the equipment and supplies necessary to keep her staff safe on the frontlines so they could serve thousands of meals daily. The accelerated learning continued with every new ‘pivot’ necessitated by ever-changing guidelines and waivers. Laura-Zelda described it as learning to turn a semitruck on a dime!

Brownsville ISD Food and Nutrition Services is full of sweet hearts!

What achievement are you the proudest of in the past year?

Villarreal is proud of keeping the department’s approximately 487 staff members employed and safe during COVID. Her leadership team had to completely rethink their meal service platforms and reach their customers wherever they needed meals. In addition to food, they have fun giveaways and engage families by providing online nutrition education and food demos. All this has required new partnerships, especially with the districts’ transportation department and their routes managed by GPS. It was made possible by over $200,000 in grants from GENYOUTH and Dairy Max, Action for Healthy Kids, Texas Department of Agriculture, and No Kid Hungry. Laura-Zelda suggested a new motto for her department: We can do THIS and THIS and THIS and THIS too!

Home delivery boxes being loaded onto school bus

What innovation have you made that you will continue using in the future?

While several innovations are sustainable into the future, the Home Delivery Meal Program (HMDP) is most important to Villarreal. Many BISD families experience food insecurity because of insufficient food and limited resources to purchase more. Adapting the BISD FNS operation during COVID-19 was critical to reaching those in need. Their mantra is (and always has been): If the students cannot come to the food, we are going to do all we can to take the food to them. HMDP uses an efficient system operated by GPS software and makes online enrollment easy (watch video for details). Meal kits (5 breakfasts and 7 suppers) are delivered weekly to 500 stops soon to be 1,800 stops after Spring Break. Participating HMDP households receive a yard sign indicating the students are recipients of meal delivery and a placard allowing parents/guardians to pick-up a daily hot lunch at any curbside school. Laura-Zelda is proud to say the HMDP reinforces their commitment to the school community and plans to continue it during summer feeding and whenever it is needed. “Parents have expressed immense gratitude, and to see their faces, it makes it all worth it.”

District staff delivers HMDP signs

School Food on the Frontlines: It’s been a COVID year for Jeanne!

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Jeanne Reilly has been the Director of School Nutrition in RSU #14, Windham-Raymond, Maine, for 12 years. Her rural district serves 3300 students. Prior to March 2020, the district’s free/reduced percentage was 34 percent.

What was the biggest challenge that you had to overcome in the past year? Jeanne’s personal and professional challenges have been intertwined. On a personal level her challenge has been exhaustion, making it hard to find a positive attitude every morning. Professionally she needed to keep her staff positive, engaged and connected to each other. She needed to keep them focused on the “Maine” goal – their core mission to feed the district’s students – while maintaining staff levels. Motivation was critical but also challenging with constant changes in learning plans, USDA waivers and personal safety recommendations. If you are reading this, you probably know these struggles all too well.

Bulk meals during COVID-19

What achievement are you the proudest of during COVID-19? Through a seemingly endless round of pivots, Windham Raymond School Nutrition Program staff have stayed flexible, open-minded and innovative. They currently serve meals in four ways (cafeteria, other areas of schools, curbside and delivery) and have maintained 75 percent of pre-pandemic participation with only 40-50 percent of students in school at any point. Jeanne is rightly proud of her team’s achievements which she attributes in large part of years’ of trainings (customer service, culinary, HHFKA regulations, etc.) and team building. Her leadership goal has been to enable her team to grasp an idea quickly – and to run with it.

RSU Superintendent observes Mobile Meals (top) and Chef provides contact free delivery

Support from the district and the communities served by RSU #14 has been vital to maintaining participation and positive perception of the program. Jeanne is proud that the program was able to build their already-strong communication channels to let their customers know that (1) we are here to provide nutritious, safe food for your families and (2) we will keep you updated on inevitable changes asap. Their strong social media presence and regular Eblasts helped to market emergency meals and to provide ongoing education about nutrition, food safety and other critical issues.

What innovation(s) have you made that you will continue using in the future? “In order to meet social distancing guidelines, we have been serving meals to students throughout our buildings – classrooms, hallways and access points. This has been very successful and we plan to maintain it in the future.” Jeanne notes that they have been able to demonstrate to teachers and administration that feeding students is essential and that serving in a variety of locations can be efficient, effective and safe.

Grab & Go Breakfast Kiosks (L) and Concession Stand becomes serving station (R)

School Breakfast Trends, Peanut Allergy Facts and Keeping Students Safe

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According to the Food and Research Action Center’s February 2020 Breakfast Scorecard, “14.6 million children ate breakfast at school on an average day in the 2018–2019 school year.” This is an increase of over 46,000 students per day from the previous year. Much of the growth has been outside of the traditional before-school breakfast in the cafeteria – using a variety of alternative models including breakfast in the classroom, grab-and-go breakfast carts/kiosks, and mid-morning breakfast breaks. Changes in location have led to changes in menus with increases in self-stable, packaged, and easier-to-transport items. While there is nothing inherently wrong with packaged foods (which must meet National School Breakfast Program regulations), some districts are struggling with the perception of school breakfast as lots of sugars and other carbs.

School Breakfast Trends: The expectations and perceptions of student customers, especially teenagers, is also changing. Based on the breakfast choices they enjoy in fast food and quick-serve locations, they expect to also see options like protein boxes, grain bowls and fruit smoothies at school. Savvy school nutrition directors are upping their breakfast game to be more restaurant-like with everything from omelet bars and overnight oats to homemade cinnamon rolls and specialty parfaits. Many of these new school breakfast items are specifically created to decrease sugar while enhancing protein content. Looking for ways to make breakfast stick, school chefs are focusing on the right balance of protein, fat and fiber.

PB&J Greek Yogurt Parfait https://healthyschoolrecipes.com/recipes/pbj-greek-yogurt-parfait/

The Peanut Butter Solution: With those criteria, it is not surprising that the “peanut butter solution” comes to mind. Peanut butter is popular with students and is an affordable source of protein with healthy plant-based fiber (6% DV) and good fats. Peanut butter is also very versatile from a culinary standpoint – easy-to-use in baked goods, blended items and spreadable applications. However peanut is one of the top eight food allergens so schools must implement strategies to keep students with allergies safe at school. While some studies estimate that 2% of children are allergic to peanuts, the good news is that as many as 20% of peanut allergies may be outgrown, while new treatments are being developed and tested. The peanut industry wants everyone with allergies to be safe so they support the latest research and resources at Prevent Peanut Allergies.org.

Keeping Students Safe: The goal of school breakfast is to offer as many healthy, appealing food options to as many students as possible, while ensuring that all customers with food allergies are protected. Three important ways to accomplish this goal are:

  • Training: Ensure that all nutrition staff receive regular training on all food allergies. Everyone who works with food or in the cafeteria needs to know how to avoid cross-contamination and how to recognize food allergy reactions.
  • Planning: Careful planning is the key to preventing problems. Each student with a food allergy should have an individualized plan that include school foodservice, nurses, classroom staff and coaches.
  • Labeling: Make certain that all products containing an allergen are clearly labelled with text, photo or colors, as appropriate for the age and reading level of students. Check any new products and recipes for proper labeling. 

Need helping with ideas, webinars, training videos and more? Visit Managing Peanut Allergies and click on the schools section. You can also visit the School Nutrition Association’s Food Allergy Resource Center.

Peanut butter granola bars https://healthyschoolrecipes.com/recipes/peanut-butter-granola-bar/

Peanut Butter Recipes: Delicious peanut butter recipes for school breakfast are available through a variety of sources, including the USDA Recipe Box, state department of education resources and Healthy School Recipes.  

Peanut Butter Vanilla Yogurt Dip: https://www.nationalpeanutboard.org/recipes/schools/peanut-butter-vanilla-yogurt-dip.htm

This blog post is sponsored by the National Peanut Board. Learn more about the benefits and practicalities of serving peanut products in K-12 at PeanutsinSchools.org.

Donna Martin’s #FarmtoSchool Success in Burke County, Georgia

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Donna Martin, EdS, RDN, LD, SNS, addresses the 2016 Policy to Plate meeting in Washington, DC

On June 1, 2017, Donna Martin, EdS, RDN, LD, SNS, FAND, became President of The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, the world’s largest organization of food and nutrition professionals. In this prestigious volunteer position Donna will lead over 100,000 credentialed practitioners including registered dietitian nutritionists, dietetic technicians, registered, and other dietetics professionals, into the second century of the Academy – focused on a global vision of “A world where all people thrive through the transformative power of food and nutrition.”

Donna’s day job is equally important: She is Director of the School Nutrition Program for Burke County Public Schools, Georgia. Donna’s passionate belief in the transformative power of nutrition is deeply felt in Burke County, which has one of the highest rates of child poverty in the US. She has brought local produce – and local whole grain grits – into the cafeterias and started farmers markets for families and school staff. Her work to transform school nutrition in rural Georgia was recognized the White House and, in April 2016, First Lady Michelle Obama and Al Roker visited Burke Middle School to help plant the school garden. Her efforts to reduce food waste and support local farmers were recognized with top honors in the 2016 Georgia Organics Gold Radish Awards.

I was fortunate to visit Burke County Schools in April 2017 to personally see (and taste) the fruits (and veggies) of Donna Martin’s labors. My day started with a delicious grab-n-go breakfast Yogurt Parfait featuring blueberries, strawberries and bananas at Burke County Middle School, followed by a classroom Charlie Cart nutrition-cooking lesson. The fourth graders made delicious mini-strawberry shortcakes from scratch – with local berries, of course. My next stop was the best – a Georgia Grown lunch at Waynesboro Primary School, featuring local White Acre peas, collards, strawberries, cornbread, chicken and milk. This was Southern school food at its best and, if you are ever near Waynesboro, Georgia, I highly recommend that you visit for lunch.

Waynesboro Lunch

Waynesboro Elementary School Georgia Grown School Lunch

Donna Martin has long been a role model for everyone in the Georgia School Nutrition Association. Now she is an inspiration to all Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics members who want to be actively involved in transforming food systems across the country and around the world.

You can follow Harvest Bright, Burke County’s Farm to School Program on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

 

#SchoolLunch is GREAT in GREELEY

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First grader Shayla chooses flavorings for her egg pop. 

There are three great reasons to share my recent visit to Greeley-Evans School District 6 in Colorado. First, there has been lots of recent attention to school lunch acceptability and food waste related USDA school meals nutritional standards. Secondly, it is School Nutrition Employee Wellness Week culminating on May 5, with School Lunch Hero Day. And, finally, farm to school remains one of the hottest trends in school meals.

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Greeley Central High School salad bar is well-loved. 

Greeley-Evans School District 6 Nutrition Services is dedicated to getting delicious school food into hungry kids. In a district with 22,000 students (67 percent eligible for free or reduced meals) located in a population-boom town (4th fastest growth in the US), everything starts in a 12,000 square foot central production facility where nearly 100 percent of the district’s meals are prepared from scratch and sent out in bulk to schools. On my tour with district Chef Matthew Poling, I saw pallets of local Colorado red-skinned potatoes, boxes of frozen local, grass-fed beef, and 50-gallons drums of canned tomatoes direct from a California farm – as well as a commercial-sized chili roaster and a walk-in cooler of fresh produce. Why then do I have a photo of a messy salad bar with half empty containers? Because the high school students took – and ate – the produce. When I arrived at Greeley Central High School, it was standing room only on the Tierra Del Sol line. They actually they ran out of the burrito that I wanted for lunch (I did not go hungry; I enjoyed a Fuego Cheese Steak from the famous El Fuego Food Truck).

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Greeley-Evans School District 6 celebrates all their school lunch heroes. 

Before I ever entered a school, Director Danielle Bock gave me my very own School Lunch Hero Day button (distributed to every team member this week). During our tour, Danielle and I started with egg pop tasting in Chappelow K-8 Magnet School’s cafeteria at 7:30 AM and ended at a student-run coffee kiosk in Greeley West High School at 2:30 PM. During the intervening hours, I met dozens of school nutrition heroes – serving pancakes with mixed berry compote, explaining their Dance Party kits from the award-winning Student Wellness Program, scrubbing potatoes in the central kitchen, customizing sub sandwiches for teens, working the El Fuego Food Truck (and preparing my lunch), and sampling coffee with teen entrepreneurs at their student-run business.

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Director Danielle Bock helps Chappelow students choose flavorings for their egg pops. 

Greeley-Evans School District 6 is also a National Farm to School Network super-star – nearly 25 percent of their food purchases are local, with the rate increasing each year. The Greeley-Evans School District 6 Farm to School goals are ambitious and obviously achievable!

  • Continuously expanding local produce offerings during breakfast, lunch and in Fresh Fruit & Vegetable Program sites
  • Sourcing milk from local dairies
  • Integrating locally-raised beef and chicken into meals
  • Expanding and improving school garden programs
  • Increasing Farmer in the Classroom and Chef in the Classroom programming
  • Partnering with other Northern Colorado school districts to develop efficient and effective systems, like the USDA-funded District 6 Food Hub, to work with local producers

My day at Greeley-Evans School District 6 Nutrition Services was filled with enthusiastic school nutrition heroes, satisfied student customers, fresh food served with a smile, and support for the new frontiers of school food: think egg pops, food trucks, house-made hot sauce and coffee kiosks for teen entrepreneurs. I salute every staff member – and hope I can go back for lunch soon!

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For details about these farms and links to their social media, go to goo.gl/ZUrbNR