Chicken shish kebabs. Homemade hummus. Orange mélange. The recipes and cooking expertise displayed at Friday night’s EatWell@School Cooking Competition looked like an episode of Iron Chef. The skillets were hot, the competition was fierce, and, at the end of the night, Denver Human Services Family Crisis Center was declared the 2014 winner. Jo Ellen Mitchell led the team that won $1,000 to be used to purchase kitchen equipment and the honor of having their menu served at our annual EatWell@School Luncheon on December 11.

“I think it is so cool to be recognized in this manner, being that we are a tiny little school and nutrition program,” Mitchell said. “We had a great time forming our recipes!”

cookingWhile not a traditional school district, the Denver Human Services Family Crisis Center provides meal service to children ages 10 through 18. Mitchell has recognized the importance of nutrition for these students, and facilitated several changes within her department. She now creates salsas and dips from scratch—including a wildly popular homemade ranch dip showcased in the team’s “Ring Around the Garden” dish in the competition—and offers several new, healthy menu items such as more vegetables and additional raw proteins. She also conducts a weekly, no-bake cooking lesson for students to help them learn about new, healthy foods.

The LiveWell@School Food Initiative works with food service directors across the state, providing free training to help them change processes and serve school meals that are not only healthy, but also delicious. Since its inception, the program has been implemented in 90 school districts, training approximately 430 food service professionals and increasing the quality of food for more than 600,000 students in Colorado.

“We know that students consume 35 to 50 percent of their daily calories at school and that good nutrition increases both cognitive ability and learning capacity,” said Shepard Nevel, president and CEO of LiveWell Colorado. “That’s why we’re here: To showcase and celebrate the great work being done across the state to improve school food.”

To purchase tickets to attend the EatWell@School Luncheon (and taste Friday night’s winning menu), visit https://livewellcolorado.org/livewells-commitment/events/eatwellschool-luncheon or contact Becky Grupe at beckygrupe@livewellcolorado.org.