Kids love cherry tomatoes, choices: Moffat County school lunches get nutrition boost | CraigDailyPress.com

Kids love cherry tomatoes, choices: Moffat County school lunches get nutrition boost

Kids make healthy choices with new school salad bars

East Elementary School third-grader Kayden Tijsma-Crauthers adds a few bites of broccoli to his plate to complement his hot dog lunch with some fresh veggies Wednesday. All six Moffat County School District schools now have daily salad bars in their lunch room, and MCSD Food Services is working to add some nutritional boosts to other aspects of the lunch menu as well.

— Chicken nuggets and chocolate milk may still be on the menu for school hot lunches, but they're now breaded with whole grains, the milk is fat-free and they’re accompanied by a healthy selection of fresh, raw vegetables.

Last spring and this fall, Moffat County School District installed salad bars in every school in the district, including all four elementary schools. The new daily offering of fresh vegetables and fruits comes as part of MCSD's participation in LiveWell Colorado's School Food Initiative.

"The kids like being able to choose what they want to eat," said Heidi Jensen, a food services staff member at East Elementary School. "They really like the tomatoes."

Every kid who goes through the lunch line takes a pass through the salad bar after picking up their hot lunch tray. Wednesday's salad bar at East was stocked with a green salad, cherry tomatoes, raw broccoli, sliced bell peppers and string cheese.

"With the salad bars, you just watch those little guys, and they just take such ownership of it," said MCSD Food Services Director Judy Baker. "It's neat to see that they're so engaged with what's going on with their food and making choices."

Baker began working with LiveWell at the beginning of the year to examine where the district could improve the nutrition of its school lunches by reducing sodiumand fat and cooking more meals from scratch.

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"We've already implemented some things, like adding more beans to the beef for tacos and nachos, so they're getting the protein, but not the saturated fat," Baker said.

The cafeterias in each school are now serving scratch-made ranch dressing at all the salad bars. Baker will work with LiveWell chefs to add another scratch-made dressing to the lineup, which students will have the chance to taste-test before giving a thumbs up.

LiveWell offers hands-on training to school kitchen staff on everything from knife skills to mastering scratch-made recipes and also helps Baker prioritize where improvements can be made and how to budget them.

The school district will also receives support from Northwest Colorado Visiting Nurse Association, which sees the program as an opportunity to further address the childhood obesity epidemic. VNA Public Health Director Charity Neal called it a natural partnership.

"As a state, we've seen a leveling out of the increase in childhood obesity, but we're not seeing a decline yet, so we're really looking at all avenues," Neal said. "It's just another part of our overall approach of trying to be really good community partners with people with like missions."

LiveWell chefs will visit Moffat County school lunchrooms again in November to continue training lunchroom staff at each school in new recipes and to support Food Services in incorporating recipes for a homemade vegetables marinara sauce (which will sneakily add some extra vegetables into a kid-approved favorite) and barbeque sauce.

"Kids who eat nutritious meals are better positioned to learn and stay focused in school,” said LiveWell Vice President of Policy and Communications Sarah Kurz. "We know from national research that most kids consume up to half their calories during the school day, so it's especially important that schools provide healthy options."

Contact Lauren Blair at 970-875-1794 or lblair@CraigDailyPress.com or follow her on Twitter @LaurenBNews.

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