Eagle County school lunches get healthier
EAGLE COUNTY, Colorado – Eagle mom Erin Vega glances at the September menu for Brush Creek Elementary’s cafeteria.”It looks like I’m at a restaurant, ordering from a menu,” she said. “Rice pilaf?”Vega said she normally packs lunch for her daughter, fourth-grader Cloe, but that’s going to change this year. Brush Creek Elementary in Eagle will be making big changes to the school lunches this year through a pilot program.Ray Edel, director of nutritional services for the Eagle County School District, said the cafeteria plans to make all entrees in-house, eliminating processed entrees. Previously more than 50 percent of the entrees were processed, he said.If all goes well with the pilot program, Edel hopes to expand the program to the rest of the district’s elementary schools next school year.”We’re looking for funding sources,” he said.The new menu at Brush Creek introduces dishes like “herb roasted chicken with rice pilaf” and a new, whole wheat pizza crust. The school eliminated processed entrees like French toast sticks with sausage and potato rounds.Along with removing processed foods, the cafeteria will offer a fresh fruit and vegetable bar every day, Edel said. A greenhouse behind the school will occasionally supply lettuce and herbs.Brush Creek Elementary students aren’t the only ones who will see changes along the lunch line. All elementary and middle school cafeterias will serve 25 percent fewer processed entrees this school year.”It’s really the direction the industry is taking,” Edel said. “It’s the direction being demanded by parents.”To get inspiration for Brush Creek’s menu, Food Services Specialist Tony Cardona and Brush Creek Elementary Cafeteria manager Kelly Haney went to a week-long “culinary boot camp” in Montrose over the summer, where chefs gave them recipes for making dishes from scratch.Launching the pilot program at Brush Creek Elementary will cost $10,000 to $15,000, Edel estimates. That cost includes new equipment like a large immersion blender and food processors, plus the extra labor costs.Milk decisionSchool officials have ruled on one of the most controversial issues in the cafeteria: flavored milk.Edel said the strawberry and chocolate milks will disappear from all elementary school cafeterias this year. Instead students will have a choice between 1 percent and nonfat plain milk.Also, the district plans to remove strawberry milk from the middle and high school cafeterias.Flavored milk was a hot topic at Avon Elementary last school year, where parents concerned about the sugar content successfully pushed to have flavored milks removed. A group of doctors and dietitians convened to study whether the district should expand the ban on flavored milks.Snack swapStudents will see fewer unhealthy snacks in the cafeterias. At the elementary schools, the district will remove all “a la carte” snacks that lack nutritional value, Edel said. Potato chips, cookies and brownies will disappear, replaced with fresh fruit, raisins, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, string cheese, apple sauce, pretzels, yogurt and low sugar cereals, school officials said.At the middle and high schools, cafeterias will remove 25 percent of the unhealthy options, Edel said. Pop-Tarts, Rice Krispies Treats, Grandma’s cookies, Fruit Roll-ups, Fruit Gushers, Snickers bars and Peanut M&M’s are among the snacks that will be removed.The schools will continue to offer baked potato chips. Middle and high school cafeterias will have the option of bringing in any of the healthy snacks being offered at the elementary schools, Edel said.Staff Writer Sarah Mausolf can be reached at 970-748-2928 or firstname.lastname@example.org.