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Colo. school district’s menus get refreshed

MATT LINDBERG
Montrose Daily Press
Vail, CO Colorado
In this April 21, 2010 photo, Tracy Bennigsdorf, kitchen manager for Centennial Middle School in Montrose, Colo., prepares a salad bar before lunch. The school uses greenhouse produce from Mattics' farm. School menus will be loaded with fresh, tasty and nutritional food come fall, thanks to a new Montrose County School District initiative. (AP Photo/Montrose Daily Press, Joel Blocker)
AP | Montrose Daily Press

MONTROSE, Colo. – Say goodbye to junk food, kids.

School menus will be loaded with fresh, tasty and nutritional food come fall, thanks to a new Montrose County School District initiative.

“We’re calling it a food reform. We’re going back to basics – back to real food,” said Kathy DelTonto, the district’s nutritional services director.



Gone are processed foods such as corn dogs, hot dogs, country-baked steak, breakfast pizzas, meatloaf, barbecue ribs and chocolate milk. Frozen meats also are in the past.

What’s new? Over the past year, school kitchens have gone back to using fresh pork, hamburger, chicken and turkey. School chefs are making their own barbecue sauce and salad dressings. Chefs also are back to baking whole-wheat bread from scratch rather than using frozen dough. Salad and fruit bars will be in the schools this fall.



DelTonto said the goal is to use only 10 percent processed foods come fall, as there is no way to completely eliminate them.

“I think it’s great these changes are being made,” said Tracy Bennigsdorf, Cenntenial Middle School kitchen manager. “It’s more rewarding. We feel like we’re actually cooking for the kids and not just putting stuff on their tray.”

Said Centennial seventh-grader Luis Rodriguez: “Sometimes the food is good; sometimes it is just OK.”



Classmate Gael Sanchez said, “Some of the food they make is weird. Stuff I have never heard of before.”

The boys’ favorites are the popcorn chicken and fresh fruits because they taste good. And while schools across Colorado are in fiscal trouble these days, the district’s meals basically pay for themselves. The nutritional services department has a $2.2 million budget – separate from the district’s general fund budget. Most of the food money comes from sales of meals.

Breakfasts cost $1.25 and $1.35 in elementary and secondary school, respectively, and the district gets a 26 cent reimbursement off every breakfast sold. The district is reimbursed for students who qualify for free and reduced-cost meals: $1.46 from kids who qualify for free breakfast, and $1.16 for students buying reduced-cost (40 cents) breakfasts.

Likewise, lunches cost $1.75 and $2 for elementary and secondary school kids, or 40 cents for qualifying students in third grade and up. The district gets reimbursed 25 cents from full-price lunches but gets $2.28 and $2.68 reimbursement from a reduced-cost or free lunch, respectively.

Fifty-four percent of district students qualify for free or reduced-cost lunch. The district is putting its revenue to good use – purchasing fresh produce from Olathe farmer Kerry Mattics. The district has worked with Mattics in the past, but its greenhouse produce purchases have increased by 30 percent this year, DelTonto said.

Greenhouse produce includes lettuce, radishes, carrots and broccoli. The district also buys fruit, tomatoes and squash Mattics grows on his farm. All that is purchased goes to school kitchens to be put in salad and fruit bars or used in recipes.

The district isn’t alone in its mission to improve its students’ diets. The Aspen-based Children’s Health Foundation, founded in 2004, is teaming with Montrose to increase healthy eating habits among children and promote a healthy school environment.

The foundation funneled $110,000 into the district’s nutrition department. Part of it will pay to hold workshops for cafeteria staff this summer. Professional chefs will train staff from Montrose County and surrounding school districts on how to properly prepare food and use knives. The first workshop will be July 11-16 at Montrose High for all 10 kitchen managers in the district and 22 managers from surrounding districts. Another workshop will be held in August for all of Montrose County district’s kitchen staff.

“It’s just education for our staff so that they are fully prepared,” DelTonto said.

The money also is going toward purchasing new equipment, including steam tables, refrigerators, freezers and salad bar pans. Improving students’ diets always has been Del- Tonto’s plan. The district asked the Colorado Health Foundation last year to assess its nutritional services.

The foundation sent in Food Systems Solutions LLC, a NewYork City-based consultant company, in March 2009, and its president, Kate Adamick, conducted the review. She reviews dozens of school districts’ nutritional services each year, including Adams 14 in Commerce City and Aurora Public Schools this year.

For Montrose County schools, she recommended more salad bars and eliminating chocolate milk, which the district has done. After re-visiting Montrose last month, Adamick said Montrose is “above average” in food quality.

“I am very pleased with Montrose County School District,” she said. “Kathy (DelTonto) has a great attitude and has gotten off to a great start. With her willingness to improve and the support of her district, she could make Montrose County School District one of the best nutritional service programs in the country.”


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