Sopris students chew and chat about school lunch |

Sopris students chew and chat about school lunch

John Stroud Post Independent

GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colorado – While enjoying a tray of homemade lasagna, green beans, fresh orange slices and lowfat milk, Sopris Elementary School fifth grader Meghan Lander Cobb wanted to know whatever happened to chocolate milk and cookies.

Good question.

“Did you know this same size [half pint] carton of chocolate milk contains three teaspoons of sugar?” asks Michelle Hammond, food services director for the Roaring Fork School District Re-1, pointing to Meghan’s milk carton.

By comparison, the same portion of plain white milk contains one teaspoon of sugar, she said.

And, ever wonder what a pound of fat looks like, Hammond asks later in the conversation before producing a bag containing a rather unappealing 4-inch square chunk of fat – fake, but convincing nonetheless.

“It’s very important to me to help young people recognize what’s healthy food, and what’s not healthy food,” Hammond said. “We are really trying to make healthy decisions when it comes to school lunches, but decisions that you guys will like, too.”

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Cobb and classmate Nia Monae Myer, who are students in Mark Browning’s class at SES, hosted Hammond, along with school cafeteria manager Gari Lea Binegar and Glenwood Springs Mayor Bruce Christensen, for some lunchtime conversation Wednesday.

Recently, the students read an article in Time For Kids magazine titled “A Fresh Look at Lunch,” about a federal study into new nutrition standards for school lunch programs.

The article talks about how many schools are moving away from processed foods and toward fresh produce and homemade meals. It concludes with a call to action for students to be part of the process, by writing letters and inviting local decision-makers to lunch.

Re-1, as well as other area school districts including Garfield Re-2 and Aspen, are already ahead of the game, though.

Following a visit last February to assess school lunch programs in the Roaring Fork Valley, consultant Kate Adamick of Food Systems Solutions, made a few recommendations, some of which have since been implemented at school cafeterias in Glenwood Springs, Carbondale and Basalt.

Each school lunch program now offers a salad bar all five days of the school week, rather than just one day a week as was previously the case, Hammond said. Fresh fruit is also on the menu every day.

Four days a week, the main courses are homemade, not packaged, she said. Friday lunches are still what’s called “cook’s choice” day, meaning pre-packaged, pre-cooked meals can be served.

And, lunches at the district’s three high schools are also now prepared on site, rather than being carted over from one of the local elementary or middle schools as they were before, she said.

“We try to balance our choices as much as we can,” Hammond said, adding that parent and student committees in each of the communities help with those decisions.

“If we see that there’s something the kids absolutely hate, we will replace it with something else,” she said.

Re-1 schools serve 1,900 meals each day. At SES, roughly half of the students take advantage of the school lunch program, while the rest bring their own lunch from home.

Mayor Christensen pointed out that cooking for 1,900 people a day is a lot different than a family trying to figure out what to cook for dinner.

“I’m sure the school would like to provide more fresh foods, but they don’t always have them available,” he said.

Some area schools are addressing that. For instance, Roaring Fork High School in Carbondale, in partnership with Fat City Farms, is building a greenhouse at the school where students can grow fresh produce to include in the school lunch program. Sustainable agriculture is also now offered as part of the school’s science curriculum.

One possible outcome of Wednesday’s meeting could be a similar opportunity for Sopris Elementary students.

Christensen, who is executive director at Mountain Valley Developmental Services, located next door to the school, said they have some greenhouse space available that could be made available to students.

“See, we might have just started something new here,” Browning told his students before sending them off to the playground for recess.