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Feed students, the healthy way

While there is plenty to criticize, and praise, about the local school district, there are times when a program begins, or is modified, and stands worthy of attention and support.

Read the press release from Archuleta School District 50 Jt. in this issue of The SUN — the release concerns a new direction being taken by the food service program. It signals a change that has been a long time in coming and one we wholeheartedly support.

It is also a change that will likely take a long time to complete, but it is a start.

The change moves students a step at a time away from what is a longstanding and widespread school food service system here, and elsewhere — one that involves processed food products with a minimal hands-on effect by local providers.

Now, the district and Laura Rand, head of the food service program, are beginning a journey back to a time some of us remember well — when school food was prepared on site, using an abundance of fresh product, providing students with clean, nourishing fuel and an enjoyable food experience.

It is a step away from the thaw it-warm it-serve it approach that has dominated public school cafeterias for decades. It is a step away from the corn dogs and crud that accelerate a growing problem with childhood obesity and amplify a disturbing situation involving the effect of certain food products (high fructose corn syrup and a plethora of preservatives, among them) on behavior and learning.

The process, Rand notes, will take time and it begins with a partnership with the LiveWell@School Food Initiative — with funding and support from the Colorado Health Foundation.

According to the non-profit organization’s website, “The goal of the LiveWell@School Food Initiative is to ensure all children in Colorado have access to and choose healthy food at school by 2022. LiveWell Colorado educates and inspires children and adults to embrace healthy eating and active living, because when more people make healthier choices, life improves for every Coloradan.”

A substantial number of Colorado schoolchildren are overweight or obese; the state has the second-fastest growing childhood obesity rate in the U.S. and has fallen from third leanest to 23rd leanest in the U.S. Common school food programs have played a part in this predicament.

The non-profit provides instruction, including cooks and chefs sent to districts to provide training for staff. Rand says the transition in the local program will take as long as it has to — but she is committed to the change. The first step is to leave behind certain processed items, starting with something as simple as making dressings for salads. Next, a chef will arrive and provide instruction on, say, sauces. According to Rand, one step at a time, the program will provide tastier and healthier fare for students.

The process will involve retraining staff; the district has what is nearly a full-service kitchen at the high school. LiveWell is providing several pieces of additional equipment through a grant program.

In two weeks or so, the lunchrooms will move back to the use of raw vegetables, not pre-processed, with fewer additives. All the while, the menu selections will be made balancing healthy choices with what students will eat.

We wish Rand and the district success —ultimate success, with 100-percent fresh product and in-house production in the future. We hope the school board and administration continue to support the move and find a way to feed our kids healthier, delicious food, pleasing them while, at the same time, giving them the nourishment needed for a successful school experience.   Karl Isberg

This story was posted on August 29, 2013.