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Fueling the Future, Colorado-Style

They said it couldn’t be done. Prepare meals from scratch. Done. Purchase locally grown foods.  Done. Add salad bars to every school. Done. Reduce sodium. Done. Develop a highly trained central production staff led by an Executive Chef, keep the budget in the black and maintain labor hours. Done, done and done. But it didn’t happen overnight!

My team at the Weld County School District 6 Nutrition Services in Greeley, Colorado has been on a journey for the past three years to “clean up” our food system by focusing on eliminating highly processed entrees in favor of freshly made meals prepared from scratch utilizing local ingredients when possible. It’s a commitment we call “School Food Renaissance”.   

Darlene Barnes, USDA Regional Administrator, is given a garden tour by students of Jackson Elementary.  The students grew and harvested vegetables that were sold to the cafeteria and featured on the school’s salad bar. (Photo courtesy of Weld County School District 6)

We started small, by purchasing a few local crops through our Farm to School program and making small changes to our entrees.  From there we invested in our staff by providing intensive food safety training, hosted a Culinary Boot Camp, added salad bars to all schools and renovated a dormant warehouse space back into a central production facility. It wasn’t easy, but it has certainly been worth it: Our students are eating healthier meals. Our parents love our efforts. We’ve even received some national recognition from the New York Times and ABC’s Nightline!

Another key to our success has been the support of our district and the community. Our Superintendent and School Board have been instrumental in supporting our efforts and helping us get the word out about our healthy changes. Community partners like LiveWell Colorado and The Colorado Health Foundation have assisted by providing a Cook for America school meal assessment, culinary training, mobile chef support and grant funding for renovations. It really does take a community to make lasting change for our children.

As part of the USDA’s “The School Day Just Got Healthier” campaign, Darlene Barnes, USDA Regional Director, recently paid us a visit to see first-hand the Central Production Kitchen facility and then one of our Elementary sites where we toured a student-grown garden, ate lunch with First graders and connected with community members at a roundtable event.  It was an honor to have Ms. Barnes visit as we continue our journey to providing healthier breakfast, lunch and after school snacks to our nearly 20,000 students.

See other blog posts in this series: