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North Valley Food Service Gets A Healthy, Tasty Start To The New Year

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Sarah Bohannon
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NSPR
A workshop attendee creates decorates a Graham Cracker with cream cheese and cut up vegetables in order to learn new ways to engage kids with healthy food.

It’s 11 a.m. on a Monday. A time when most of the 50 school food service employees sitting in this room would be getting ready to serve or already be serving school lunch. But today, they’re having a much more relaxed lunch period. They’re working on a sort of food art project that involves spreading cream cheese on a Graham Cracker, then making a face out of it using cut up pieces of vegetables and fruit. 

Engaging projects like this are just some of the ways school food service is trying to get kids to eat healthy food.

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Credit Sarah Bohannon / NSPR
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NSPR
A Graham Cracker covered in cream cheese and cut up vegetables made by a workshop attendee as part of a project to learn how to engage kids with healthy food.

Recently dubbed Student Nutrition Professional Development, the group is a collaboration between Colusa Unified School District and Chico State’s Center for Healthy Communities. It’s made up of school food service employees from elementary, middle and high schools around the Northern Sacramento Valley who meet yearly at Colusa High School. Leasa Hill, food service director for Colusa Unified School District and the event’s co-founder, said it was created for area school food service employees from all levels to learn new skills and share best practices.

“It’s really hard to be a director and know what every single person needs and what inspiration, you know what really speaks to them,” Hill said. “So this is an opportunity just to kick off the school year to get them inspired and understand how awesome and catastrophic their job really is.”

Or could be. Food safety is a big concern for food service. Those handling food need to be properly aware of safe food handling practices. Having the yearly get together creates a platform to talk about these kinds of issues.

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Credit Sarah Bohannon / NSPR
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NSPR
Leasa Hill, food service director for Colusa Unified School District and the yearly school food service workshop’s co-founder, takes a picture of Gail Mack from Corning Unified School District and her food art project used to learn about engaging kids with healthy food.

One of the most pressing concerns for school food service lately is just making school food look good. That’s mostly due to new federal mandates that make school meals healthier, but sometimes unappealing. A big focus of this year’s event was on using locally grown foods – often called Farm-to-School – to get kids more excited about the healthier meals. Sandy Curwood, food service director from Conejo Valley Unified School District in Southern California and this year’s event guest speaker, explains what Farm-to-School is and how it appeals to kids because it engages them through practices like nutrition and agriculture education …

“School gardens, taste testings, and cooking lessons. So that really it’s everything to do with food, how you get it from your farm, what it means to get the most nutrition from that, and to support your local community by keeping those dollars in the community,” Curwood said.

Williams Elementary School Head Cook Lynda Reynolds and Williams High School Head Cook Rosa Leos said the yearly workshop has helped them with networking and taught them new recipes. But they said there’s also a lot they already know – like that kids like produce from a salad bar.  

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Credit Sarah Bohannon / NSPR
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NSPR
Student Nutrition Professional Development is a group of school food service employees from elementary, middle and high schools around the Northern Sacramento Valley. This year about 50 food service employees met at Colusa High School to talk about how to better kids eating healthy foods.

“We already had figured it out how you get them to eat this stuff and they’re great …,” Reynolds said.

“… The salad bar it’s easy for them to choose what they want instead of just having something on their plate,” Leos added. “So they get to choose whatever they want and they have a lot of choices. So they have all the colors, they have all the vitamins, they have everything so it’s easy for us and it’s better for them too.”

And that’s the point of the workshop. A place where school food service like any other trade can network, learn more about what they don’t know and share with others the things that make all the difference that they do.  

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