A Small School Creates Big Healthy Change
Editor’s note: This story was originally published in LiveWell Colorado’s 2016 Annual Report.
Idalia RJ-3 is one of the eight school districts in our School Food Initiative (SFI) 2016-2017 cohort. Located in the small farming and ranching community of Idalia in eastern Colorado’s Yuma County, the Idalia School serves about 250 PK-12 students.
SFI Chef Consultant Jessica Wright began working with the school and its two-person kitchen staff in May 2016. “The school’s Foodservice Director, Griselda Cano, was relatively new to her role, so initially a big part of my job was helping them get their bearings with the basics—including working within the updated USDA regulations and updating their current processes, paperwork, and menu cycle planning—before trying to introduce anything new,” Chef Jessica says. “Then we started looking at their existing menus and recipes to determine how to start integrating scratch cooking to help them serve more healthy, fresh and tasty food to students.”
By August 2016, Chef Jessica and the Idalia school food team were ready to showcase what they’d been working on. “The school hosts a picnic before the start of each schoolyear, so it was the perfect opportunity to introduce some of the new recipes and skills the school food chefs had learned and talk about what we were doing and why with the community,” Chef Jessica says. “It’s a small community, so this interaction has been key to the success of our work—and it helps the school food staff build confidence and pride in what they do, because they realize how important their jobs really are.”
Throughout the first half of the 18-month SFI program in Idalia, Chef Jessica has continued to play an integral role in connecting the work of the school food team with the broader community—whether it’s working with health teachers in the classroom, attending school wellness committee and PTA meetings, or talking to parents and students about the changes they’re making to improve school meals and how families can make similar changes at home. Because of this collaborative, community-involved approach, the SFI program is already seeing successes in Idalia that go far beyond the school kitchen.
“It’s a testament to the shift in SFI’s approach overall,” Chef Jessica says. “The program has transformed to being about teaching not only culinary skills but also life skills. It’s about a whole approach to wellness that will ultimately lead to meaningful, long-term change for the health of kids, schools, and communities across Colorado.”
Children spend half their waking hours and consume up to 50 percent of their calories at school. For low-income students, the percentage is even higher. That’s why LiveWell’s School Food Initiative works to ensure all Colorado kids have access to great-tasting fresh and healthy meals in school.