A Fresh Approach to school lunches | VailDaily.com

A Fresh Approach to school lunches

Daily staff report
Vail, CO Colorado

When you think of school lunches, what comes to mind? For most of us, the response is often a groan or memory of unappetizing food slopped on our tray. A group of parents and school district staff is working on a Fresh Approach initiative so that Eagle County students won’t need to share that memory.

Eagle County schools has created a healthier school lunch by developing scratch-cooked menu items to replace highly processed foods. Currently, the Fresh Approach program is being offered at Brush Creek Elementary through a special grant from the school district. Brush Creek was chosen for the pilot due to its low student participation rate in the lunch line, but since September, when the scratch cooking and fresh produce were offered in the lunch line, lunch participation is up 25 percent. The new menu gets rave reviews from students, teachers and parents, while keeping the cost of a student lunch at $3.

Anne Heckman, principal at Brush Creek Elementary, said that “the stealth cooking approach has children eating and enjoying squash in the mac and cheese and zucchini in their spaghetti. Having healthy foods at school has made a big difference to our students in learning to be healthy.”

She also overheard a kindergartner in the lunch line bragging to another student, “Our school has a pretty good restaurant!”

A parent at Brush Creek, Natalie Rooney, said, “My children are very excited to eat at school, now that the menu is filled with fresh fruits and vegetables and more homemade meals. When the kids buy lunch, I feel like it’s a vacation day for me!”

But, as we know, there’s no such thing as a free lunch. Fresh produce, whole grains and better meats, and the labor to prepare them, result in higher costs the district cannot fund with the existing budget. In order to continue the Fresh Approach initiative and expand it to all schools, external funding is needed. A group of parents, teachers and staff is working to develop a series of chef dinners throughout the valley to raise needed funds. In addition, the Fresh Approach team imagines that healthier foods at school will provide healthy habits to model at home, giving the valley’s public-school children new behaviors for healthy living.

Eagle County schools has teamed up with local corporate partners and restaurateurs to host the chef dinners. Vail Resorts, Brian Nolan’s Group 970, the French Press of Edwards, Paradigm of Eagle, Vista at Arrowhead and Chef Paul Ferzacca’s restaurants, La Tour and Zacca Za, have all committed to hosting a meal prepared by their executive chefs. The first Fresh Approach Chef Dinner will be held on May 7 at the Arrabelle at Vail Square.

Douglas Dodd, executive chef at Arrabelle, will delight guests with an upscale menu based on cafeteria fare.

“Vail Resorts is excited to be partnering with Eagle County schools to host a series of chef dinners in support of fresh, healthy food for students,” said Pete Hayda, regional director of sales and marketing for RockResorts Legendary Lodging Mountain Collection. “As a corporate partner to the Fresh Approach initiative, we are proud to be working with parents and schools to help students learn healthy eating habits by providing our restaurants and chefs for these events. We hope to see both local residents and guests to the valley participate in a chef dinner and sample healthy cuisine in our finer restaurants.”

In addition to the chef dinners, Eagle County schools is working to raise funds for the Fresh Approach initiative through private foundations and other local investors. Denver-based LiveWell Colorado and the Food Family Farming Foundation of Boulder have already contributed to the effort. The chef dinners are a replica of a successful fundraising venture by Boulder Valley School District’s Ann Cooper, whose moniker is the “Lunch Lady.”

For more information, contact Holly Woods, ECS director of fund development (holly.woods@eagleschools.net, 970-328-2755) or Tara van Dernoot, parent (taranoot@gmail.com, 970-471-4711).

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