A group of Latina moms in the northern Denver suburbs, many of whom work or volunteer at their children’s schools, have noticed that many kids don’t eat their cafeteria meals. Lots of food wasted. The children were returning home hungry.
“They were very hungry, like hungry, so they started asking, What’s going on? Are you eating or what’s going on?” said Karo Neri, a community organizer with ELPASO Voz in Longmont, part of ELPASO, or Latino parents involved in advancing the outcomes of their students. It is a community group that works on issues to improve children’s academic performance.
The other children ate the food and were obese. Another thing they noticed: a huge difference in the areas serving students in their cafeterias. Students in Boulder and Louisville got fresh fruit and juices for breakfast. For Students at Longmont and Erie – Packaged banana pancakes and breakfast pizza.
The women began investigating what was on the school listings in the Saint Phryne Valley School District. They have seen a lot of processed and canned foods. They saw skim chocolate milk loaded with sugar. There was fresh food to be sure, but they also saw preservatives, artificial colors or dyes, additives, and high fructose corn syrup. Much of the processed food wasn’t satisfying their kids or they didn’t eat school food.
“They realized that some kids don’t eat anything all day,” said Neri.
The group noticed the inequality: In the neighboring Boulder Valley School District, most of the food served is fresh and from scratch – home made using local ingredients – for the same or even lower price. Two years ago, ELPASO Moms started pushing the Saint Fren Valley region to introduce more fresh, organic foods in schools. They put a year deadline on it. This comes and goes. On Wednesday night, they will organize a peaceful protest at the school board meeting, where many children will be speaking.
The county says it serves organic produce whenever possible
In a February meeting with district officials, the women said the district did not agree with their calculations that 75 percent of the food is “highly processed,” consisting mostly of reheated frozen food or made primarily from canned goods. The district, which declined to be interviewed by CPR, told the women it does a lot. In an email to CPR, the area said it serves local produce, including organic, whenever possible. Schools have a daily salad bar. uses the area Chickens raised without antibiotics and his Crispy chicken dumplings Contains no artificial flavors or preservatives. The district said 4 million meals served this year meet or exceed USDA standards.
“When purchasing items, Saint Fren makes sure to choose items that are nutritious and desirable for our students,” writes Shelley Allen, director of district nutrition and warehouse services, who will retire this year, in a letter to ELPASO. “When composing the nutrition ingredients for our meals, none of our food contains fat. mutant. Menu items must fall within the USDA Dietary Guidelines for whole grains, lean protein, sodium, cholesterol, fats, and added sugars.”
Depending on the region, fresh fruits and vegetables are available daily, and the menu includes food made from scratch most days. St Vrain . List Includes nutritional data for each ingredient.
I beBuffet for fresh and organic food obtained from research
Before they could make district requests, the women needed facts. They have learned how to search: What is a stainer? what was monosodium glutamate? How are “added” sugars different from sugars? And was all this really necessary for feeding schoolchildren?
“If you want that carrot to look cute and fresh when you open the package, it’s full of crazy coloring,” said Terry Garcia, CEO of ELPASO.
Then they wondered, it must be more complicated than we think. What does cooking look like for thousands of children? They interviewed chefs and nutritionists, visited farms and cafeterias, read books and watched documentaries.
They learned that Boulder Valley Schools began making the switch to healthy food more than a decade ago with the appointment of Ann Cooper, known as the “Rebel Lunch Lady,” now retired. They got in touch with the new Chef in Boulder who invited them to the area’s specialty culinary center.
The two neighboring districts have approximately the same number of students. About 20 percent of Boulder Valley residents qualify for free lunch at a reduced rate, while 27 percent of St. Frein Valley residents qualify for it. Comparing how much each district spends on food service is difficult as budgets fluctuate with how many children participate in meals and food costs and how much districts pay workers and the raises they get. while the state financial website It shows that the district has roughly the same food service budgets, and the utility does not receive additional grants and funds from the district’s general fund, which Boulder receives. Many regions do not allocate public funds to their food service departments. Rough cooking can be more expensive and labor intensive.
And soon the women learned that serving healthy, fresh meals is a formidable task. Boulder Valley has a 33,000 square foot central kitchen. Voters approved a bond in 2014 to pay for it. St. Frein County will need specialized kitchens and training. But the women thought it was a worthy goal.
““Now we know what we want,” Garcia said. We want fresh food cooked from scratch. If we want to feed the students in any area, it has to be good food.”
“What motivates you to be here, ladies?”
Carla Cardoza asked the dozens of women sitting around the conference room table what brought them to the ELPASO meeting. Everyone says they want a better future for their children.
“I don’t know exactly what they eat at school,” he said, “but I was sure it was healthy food until my friend said I was wrong, and that I should pay attention to what they were eating.” Araceli Compian, mother of three. “I was surprised to learn that there are so many processed foods being offered.”
The group had two main demands: 75 percent of the ingredients in the recipes were fresh and made from scratch within one year, and that the menus were made with at least 80 percent organic ingredients.
At the meeting, they presented a slide show showing each item of the list.
“Kids love them but what do you think, is it a processed or fresh product?” asked Cardoza, who shows off a photo of Crispito, which is a cooked chicken and tortilla snack product from Tyson.
“Process,” the women called. Cardosa refers to the product’s long ingredient list.
They go through the menu items, talk about healthy food, describe the many additives and preservatives, and make their trip to the Boulder-area kitchen facility.
“It was absolutely fantastic,” said one woman who spoke of the massive equipment used to make the fresh food. “They had a huge mixer, where they mix the dough to make hamburger buns…and their students are about the same as the students at St. Phryne’s School.”
Women talk about the problem of high cholesterol, obesity and diabetes, especially among Hispanic children. One mum, Maria Valdez, told the group she wanted artificial food dyes from Saint Fren’s Food. Some studies have shown that it can exacerbate behavior problems. Her son struggled with high cholesterol and triglyceride levels for years.
“We agreed with the doctor that we would try to bring food from home for lunch and stop eating at school,” she said. She followed that up and her son’s cholesterol levels dropped.
The group wants the area to take small steps
Meanwhile, the district said it is committed to creating balanced, nutritious meals, according to a letter that warehouse and nutrition services manager Shelley Allen wrote to ELPASO. In one school year, Saint Frenne provides more than 900,000 pounds of local produce in its cafeterias, she said.
She said the district educates students about healthy eating and has offered classes to educate parents about healthy eating on a budget, has offered cooking classes for underserved communities and hosted student-led farmers’ markets. The grant will allow nine schools to grow their produce from their school cafeterias.
While the women say the district has not accepted their applications, ELPASO hopes that St. Frein County will start with small steps. For example, serve chocolate milk only on Fridays. They are worried about Chocolate milk “skim”. The packet says 18 grams of sugars (6 grams of added sugars, which don’t occur naturally.) but the school menu Leaves sugar content For both white milk and chocolate.
The women say they would like to work with the area. They understand that what they are asking is a complete structural change in the way food is purchased and cooked, and it will likely require more money to improve cooking in the local ballot in the future.
Terry Garcia of ELPASO would like to see the same kind of commitment.
“They have to eat well in order to learn,” she said. “Kids need good food, so we will get it.”
The organization hopes that the next Food Service Director in the Saint Fren Valley will share her vision.
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