School Food Initiative Chef Highlights Thompson & Salida Schools, Early Childcare Centers

By Chef Fernando Cardona, LiveWell School Food Initiative

“For us chefs who love to cook, we don’t just feed people; we like to say we’re in the business of saving lives.”

LiveWell’s School Food Initiative (SFI) team is working hard to ensure children in Colorado have access to healthy meals. Currently, the program is working with eight districts from around the state; however, it is also reaching out to others that could benefit from our expertise. It’s all about partnering with school districts and other organizations to make sure we can achieve our goals of improving health and reducing childhood obesity. It’s a long and difficult battle that requires many heads and hands to solve the problem.

The Thompson School District is one of the largest districts in Colorado with about 16,000 students. The Food & Nutrition Services Department team, led by Director Lisa Kendall, is committed to reforming their meal program to maximize health and nutrition. The district has already taken steps to improve school meals, including reducing the number of unhealthy options and eliminating the less nutritious ones. Their menus now feature both a hot entrée and a salad entrée. One of their biggest goals is to have a salad bar at every site; currently only a handful of schools have them. Salad bars are a great investment in student health, exposing them to a variety of fruits and vegetables; however, acquiring 30 salad bars comes with a cost. Fundraising will be essential in this process, and it’s great to see schools lend a hand in this.

Another district that has been changing their meal program for the better is Salida School District. More than five years ago, a couple employees from Salida attended a culinary training provided by the SFI team, and this training stuck with them. Fast-forward to the first week of February 2017, when the SFI team came down to Salida to provide a one-day culinary training to their team. Lake County even sent a few folks over too! While Salida and Lake County have continued to cook up delicious food from scratch over the years, they always wanted to bring their meal program to the next level. All these efforts will certainly pay off and help children in our state become healthier.

Additionally, the SFI team partnered with the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment to provide two culinary workshops for staff of early childcare centers in Weld and Pueblo counties last month. The workshops focused on knife skills, creating sauces from scratch, recipe reading and time management skills. We look forward to continuing to work with CDPHE and early childcare centers to help instill healthy eating habits early on, so when kids get to elementary school and see a salad bar, they’ll know what to do and make the healthy choice.

For us chefs who love to cook, we don’t just feed people; we like to say we’re in the business of saving lives.