EAGLE COUNTY, Colo.—At 6,000-student Eagle County Schools, a made-from-scratch program called Fresh Approach is being piloted at Brush Creek Elementary School.
The heart of Fresh Approach, as the name suggests, is cooking entrées and side dishes from scratch. The new preparation method is paired with healthy changes like eliminating “junk foods” in the à la carte program.
Leading the charge in Fresh Approach are Ray Edel, director of nutritional services, and Tony Cordona, assistant director of nutritional services.
“We’re making our entrées from scratch,” Edel said. “We’re making our side dishes from scratch. We’re putting out an all-you-can-eat fresh fruit and vegetable bar that is self-service.”
New entrées include teriyaki chicken, chicken fajitas, roasted herb chicken, meatloaf and mashed potatoes, whole-wheat pizza, beef and bean burritos, lasagna and a pork bowl, which is a pork stir-fry.
Other changes include serving only 1% and skim white milk and selling only à la carte snacks that have nutritional value such as pumpkin seeds, raisins and fresh fruit.
Recipe development: Edel said that since Fresh Approach started this school year, participation has increased.
“The goal is to use this as a pilot, learn from it, develop our recipes and take that and bring it to all of our elementary schools next year and possibly our middle schools,” he said. “We are trying to hone in on the pilot and make sure it is a successful project. We are learning from the recipes about what’s working and not working and what we have time to make with our allocated labor. The students are really responding well.”
Edel said most of the new recipes are from old USDA recipes or from the Lunch Box, a Web site created by Ann Cooper and the Food, Family, Farming Foundation, a nonprofit organization created to help transform the U.S. food system to be more sustainable and ecologically sound. Other new recipes were provided by culinary boot camps hosted by Live Well Colorado, a nonprofit that helps reduce obesity by promoting healthy eating and an active lifestyle. Live Well Colorado has hosted several boot camps for child nutrition professionals this summer to provide training on how to cook healthier recipes.
“We were probably doing 30% before that was non-processed and now we are doing 100%, so it’s quite a big change,” Edel said. “Luckily, we got to send two people to this culinary boot camp. We sent the culinary manager at Brush Creek and my assistant, Tony Cordona. Tony has quite a strong culinary background, so he has really tried to support the staff at Brush Creek.”
All of the district’s cafeterias have on-site kitchens, but some new equipment, such as an immersion blender, was needed.
Getting started: Edel estimated that the cost of starting the pilot was between $10,000 and $15,000. “Most of that is going to food cost and labor,” he said. “We probably only spent $1,500 on equipment. Tony is spending more time at that location. The goal was to give them temporary help until we get everything dialed in and we understand which recipes are working for us, which ones are not and which ones the kids like. Our goal is really to not add any or much labor to the program. How can we do that? It’s keeping it as simple as possible. It’s really concentrating on a hot entrée and a fresh fruit and vegetable bar. There is one entrée selection every day. The fresh fruit and vegetable bar or salad bar is the second choice.”
Edel said Brush Creek was the ideal location to run the pilot. “It is a location with very little free and reduced,” he said. “School meals are really a choice and not a necessity for most of these children. Our participation rate was low here as well.”
Brush Creek also was selected because Edel said there is a strong “green” movement at the school and the students’ parents are involved in school matters. “This school has a greenhouse that they started last year,” he said. “This school also has a green team so they are looking at all facets of the school. They are composting, recycling and looking at lights and mechanicals and the entire footprint of the school. It really was a good fit as a pilot program because there are a lot of involved parents.”