I was reading the NYT breaking news on my Kindle this morning, when to my surprise I saw an article, "Schools Restore Fresh Cooking to the Cafeteria," on school lunches in Greeley, Colorado. We live 20-25 miles northwest of Greeley and I'd never thought of the city as being a hotbed of innovation.
At a tad under 93,000 inhabitants, Greeley is mid-sized at best, but 60% of its 19,500 students qualify for lower-priced or free meals, so they have decided those meals will be healthy ones.They're not alone in this endeavor. The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine has a campaign whose motto is,"Foods served in schools should promote the health of all children." Their 2008 school lunch report card ranked twenty school districts across the nation with letter grades from A to F.
Here's that URL: http://www.healthyschoollunches.org/reports/report2008_intro.cfm
At the top with A's were schools in Montogomery County, MD, Omaha, NE, and Pinellas County, FL, I was pleased that my grandson Jordi's schools in Fairfax County, VA got an A-. At the bottom were schools in two areas of Louisiana. I bet Greeley will climb up the list in the next few years.
So what's their plan? Like many Colorado schools, they've participated in Cooks for America, a group that runs a chef's boot camp for school cooks Here's what that organization's website says: "Distinguishing the Cook for America® approach from that of countless other school food reform projects is its emphasis on holistic, systemic change through the creation of a school foodservice work force that is both capable of preparing healthy scratch-cooked meals from whole, fresh foods, and empowered and motivated to do so."
Greeley schools will be cooking from scratch, roughly three-fourths of the time at the start of this school year according to the NYT article, and aim to reach 100% in the 2012-2013 time frame. They'll be using fresh ingredients, avoiding chemicals (e.g., their bean burritos will have 12 ingredients this year versus 35 last year).
Although Colorado has the lowest obesity rate in the nation, Weld County, where Greeley is located, had rates growing faster than much of the state. So the numbers were crunched with amazing results: cooking from scratch will actually save money. A large foundation grant helped with construction and new equipment and the old central kitchen was renovated, so the budget for staff was actually reduced.
The district hired an experienced executive chef who trained at the Culinary Institute of America (the other CIA) and worked in high-end restaurants. He hopes his concepts for healthy cooking will wend their way back to the districts homes. One of his innovative ideas is to replace the chemically-colored commercial macaroni and cheese with a version whose familiar yellow will come from the Indian spice turmeric. His salad dressing will have no sugar and only a quarter of the sodium that's been present in the factory-made variety.
My hat's off to Greeley.