Frozen to Fresh: Montrose School District Gets Set to Launch School Food Revolution

By: Tim Ciesco Email
By: Tim Ciesco Email

OLATHE, Colo (KKCO) - Health experts say for the first time in American history, our children's life expectancy may be shorter than their parents -- all because of the food they're putting in their bodies. Now, in an effort to help change kids' lifestyles for the better, Montrose and Olathe schools are getting ready to launch a food revolution.

Chicken Nuggets Day has long been a favorite of the students at Olathe Elementary. But a new movement in Montrose and Olathe school cafeterias means they'll only get to enjoy them for a few more weeks -- before the vanish for good next school year.

"We're going back to basics," said Kathy Deltono, Nutrition Services Director for Montrose and Olathe Public Schools. "Reducing our processed food, cooking from scratch, baking again.

Nutrition Services staff says all you have to do is look at the ingredients label on the frozen, meaty morsels to see why.

"Look at the bottom and see how many of those words you can pronounce," said Jeri Main, Kitchen Manager at Olathe Elementary. "And if you can't pronounce them they're probably not very good for you.

For the past year-and-a-half, the Montrose and Olathe School District has been working with the Colorado Health Foundation -- a private organization whose mission is to make Colorado the healthiest state in the country -- to see how they could improve the health of their students.

In that time, the foundation recommended the district lose the frozen food and bring in the fresh -- and it gave them more than $100,000 to make that happen.

"They're helping us and providing us with training and grant money to purchase new equipment for our kitchens," said Deltonto.

And the transformation is already underway. This year, all schools in the district began baking their own whole wheat bread from scratch. Chocolate milk and the four "most processed" entrees have been removed from their lunch lines. Teachers and staff are pushing students to put a scoop of fresh, locally grown fruit on their trays. And lunch ladies turned chefs are testing out new homemade recipes they've learned.

"I think the formidable stages are between kindergarten and third grade," said Mike Krull, Food Services Director at Montrose Memorial Hospital. "If we could honestly get back to teaching them what a squash looks like or how spinach tastes, let their pallets develop in that fashion, I think that's when you're going to affect people's lives. They're going to carry that on to the next generation."

While they admit there have been a few bumps in the road to healthier eating, staff says it believes the kids are starting to get on board with them.

"If we just keep offering it to them, they will take it and they will eat it," said Main.

This summer, the Colorado Health Foundation is bringing in big guns from New York City and around the state for a week long boot camp to teach staff a few extra tricks they can use in the kitchen.

"Ten of our kitchen managers will be involved in that and they're also going to be coming back at the end of August and training our entire staff," said Deltonto.

The district says eventually it would like to make similar classes available to both students and their parents -- and start a food revolution that's there to stay.

"We can't make the change just in the school district," said Deltonto. "It has to be an awareness in the community."

School District 51 says it is currently in the early stages of discussions with the Colorado Health Foundation. Officials say they will watch the transition in Montrose very carefully and would be interested in bringing a similar program to the Grand Valley within the next several years.


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