District 51 not biting into all of Renegade Lunch Lady's ideas

By: Cecile Juliette Email
By: Cecile Juliette Email

MESA COUNTY, Colo. (KKCO) - Celebrity Chef Ann Cooper has been featured in national publications and other major news media outlets.

Chef Ann is the Director of Nutrition Services, Boulder Valley School District, and Food Family Farming Foundation founder. She is also known as the "Renegade Lunch Lady." She promotes healthier food choices for children, and will bring her ideas to Wednesday night's Wingate Garden Festival at Two Rivers Winery.

According to School District 51 Spokesperson Christy McGee, Chef Ann has many good ideas that the district would like to incorporate into their school lunch menu. But Dan Sharp, Director of Food Services for District 51 says many of her would not be cost-effective.

Sharp says in the Boulder Valley School District, Chef Ann serves only organic, made-from-scratch meals. While that may be healthier for students, it has also put the district's Food Service in debt of up to $400,000. McGee says the Boulder Valley School District has had to ask for money from the general fund. McGee says, "From what we understand, they've had to ask for money from their general fund, and that's not something our food service wants to do-they don't want to because that takes money from the taxpayers."

A few months ago, Wingate Elementary students constructed a new garden featuring tomatoes, radishes, and other vegetables. Principal Carol Wethington says the raw materials were donated, and the children perform most of the maintenance with the help of some garden-savvy parents.

Wethington says she hopes to incorporate the fresh vegetables into school lunch menus in the future. They plan to expand the garden to grow winter vegetables next year, and freeze some for future menus, and even sell some at Farmer's Markets.

Meanwhile, McGee says District 51's Food Service doesn't cost the taxpayers any extra money. She says, "The money that comes in from lunch pays for lunch." She says over the past several years, District 51 Food Service workers have revamped the school lunch menu to make it more healthful. They have gotten rid of white bread, and instead use only whole grains. Milk choices include 1 percent and skim, and all a la carte choices are 140 calories or less. Next year, District 51 officials say they will get rid of nachos and frito pie.

McGee says School District 51 likes many of Chef Ann's ideas, but to adopt them, they would have to raise lunch menu prices. She says, "If they were gonna do things like organic foods or some of those drastic measures than they'd have to charge more for lunch which is what we've seen in Boulder. It's our understanding that her tactics have caused their food service to lose money. It's in the hundreds of thousands of dollars."

According to Sharp, many Boulder parents can't afford the
higher price for lunch. He says the Boulder Valley School District has "failed to break even as an enterprise zone fund, participation drops significantly after they implement their new pricing structure at $3.50 and $4 organic meals. The new pricing structure moves many families away from the program as they now to to discount stores to purchase low cost/high processed lunches for their students."

School District 51 charges $2.50 per lunch.

For more information about School District 51, and Chef Ann Cooper's Healthy Lunch Initiative, click on the links below.


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