Why It Matters
Stirring a Culture Shift at School
Nearly 40% of children’s diets in the U.S. come from added sugars and unhealthy fats, with children consuming up to 50% of their calories at school. In Colorado, nearly a quarter of our children are overweight or obese, resulting in the second-fasting growing childhood obesity rate in the country.
One of the most important steps in reshaping the school food environment is updating the kitchen and cafeteria. Since 2010, LiveWell Colorado’s School Food Initiative has partnered with over 90 school districts across the state to incorporate more whole foods into the menu. Together, we can help children fill their lunch trays with fresh produce and tasty entrées free of preservatives, chemicals and excess sugar & sodium.
When kids eat better, they do better. Research shows that children of normal weight achieve higher academic performance than children who are overweight or obese. In addition, overweight children are more likely to have asthma, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, apnea and joint problems.
In almost 100 school districts across the state, food service professionals have accepted the challenge to change their processes, menus and mindsets to improve the nutritional intake of students through the food they consume at school. With guidance from the SFI team, they gain professional culinary skills, learn how to promote their program, and rediscover the joys of cooking.
With guidance from the SFI team, districts are improving their balance sheets by reallocating budgets previously spent on highly processed and packaged foods. Introducing new revenue streams like district catering and breakfast in the classroom/after the bell, districts are able get out of the red while streamlining their operations.
Initiative past participants have acquired valuable time management skills to effectively and efficiently cook from scratch. The SFI team illustrates how smart planning, i.e. using the whiteboard method, can save kitchen staff several hours a week and thus reduce or reallocate labor. What about processing 700 pounds of vegetables in one hour? It is possible with the right equipment and techniques.
Eating food that’s good for you does not mean sacrificing on taste. In fact, we teach food service professionals to use fresh and even locally sourced ingredients to bring forth simple, delicious flavors. In one district, our chefs showed kitchen staff how to reduce the number of ingredients in their mac-n-cheese from 24 (highly processed) to just 6 (fresh and whole)! In the end, students came to prefer the dish that was free of preservatives, artificial dyes and chemicals.