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School Crossing

By Guy Nahmiach

Who loves school cafeteria food? No one! Well, almost no one. For years we’ve been joking, complaining and finding ways to improve, justify and debate the quality, cost and availability of good and healthy food options for our students inside their schools.

In fact, I have been on the forefront of complaining and challenging the very existence of the dreaded SNACK CART:  foods filled with sugar, secret chemicals and magic formulas that cause students to throw away their homemade lunches and fill their bellies with sweet nothings, only to find themselves an hour later feeling like they are sliding down a mountain, losing vital energy in the midst of a test that will determine their education path for the rest of the year.

OK, a little exaggeration, but not that far off.

So what does any good leader like Superintendent Jason Glass do? He points at me and asks me to head up a task force that will evaluate, observe and make recommendations on how to improve our food and nutrition network here at Jeffco. Taking a year to assemble experts in nutrition, school finance, chefs, parents, teachers and, of course, the most important part of the food chain – the “end user” – students.

This group will observe districts with successful cafeteria systems, sample meals from schools throughout Jeffco, hear out testimonials from students on why and where food tastes good and finding ways to replicate their experience right here at home with the goal of understanding the implications of federal funding for free and reduced dollars and how they play a role in selecting menus and food sources. Understanding why high school students would prefer eating at a fast-food place rather than sit in their cafeteria is another goal as well as figuring out. how to make eating at school cool.

There are so many floating ideas on how to improve the overall “food” experience for our students. Organic, gluten free, vegetarian, less dairy, more fruits, less sugar, the list is endless – but it comes down to two things:  healthy and tasty. There is the affordable part of the equation, but I have to believe that surely we can spend the same as we are now, but get better reviews.

In the coming weeks, you will see an announcement from Superintendent Glass about this initiative including the creation of this task force and an invitation for your input. It is critical that we hear from you. This will be your opportunity to bring forth those suggestions you’ve been sharing within your circles of influence such as parents at pick up and drop off, or on social media. I’m already hearing from districts where students look forward to lunch every day because of the amazing food. Why can’t we have street tacos, salad bars, ramen stations and international day, where once a week a menu will include meals from another country? I have watched districts prepare their foods in a central kitchen and deliver to all of their schools every day, and other districts where each school kitchen has been retrofitted and staffed to prepare meals in-house, using locally grown produce. Both approaches are successful, but maybe a combination of these is what we need. All great questions, suggestions and options for us to consider.

The snack cart, by the way, isn’t exclusive to Jeffco. Dr. Glass shared that Eagle County also has one that he tried improving on by eliminating the junk food with healthy choices – apples, celery and carrot sticks – only to find out that students didn’t eat any of it. In fact, this created a black market for Cheetos where a student was caught storing large numbers of bags in his locker and selling them to other students. I did ask Dr. Glass (jokingly) if this represented his definition of his “entrepreneurial spirit.” It did not.

That being said, we have made advancements in many areas and I certainly appreciate the new menus, well-trained staffing, and the elimination of styrofoam trays in more schools. But that’s the process part of the equation. I’m looking to improve the actual purpose: feeding our students food that will fuel their bodies and minds, and taste good at the same time. As always thanks for reading.

Contact Guy Nahmiach at guy@NostalgicHomes.com or 303-999-5789.