Young stu­dents rel­ish school food project

The Denver Post - - NEWS - By Monte Wha­ley

boul­der» Natalie Con­don smiled Mon­day as young con­sumers of her Lafayette farm’s winter squash har­vest com­pared notes about the veg­etable’s tex­ture and taste.

“It’s or­ange; it tastes like or­ange,” said a kinder­gart­ner at Columbine El­e­men­tary School in Boul­der. “It’s squishy in my mouth,” said a class­mate.

Con­don couldn’t have been hap­pier with the re­views. “This is won­der­ful for us and the kids,” she said. “This builds a real con­nec­tion to the food that they eat. A lot of kids don’t know where their food is grown. And this helps change that.”

Con­don is part of a na­tional move­ment started in 2009 by Chef Ann Cooper aimed at help­ing schools get ac­cess to fresh, healthy food. Cooper be­gan the Chef Ann Foun­da­tion to head-off a na­tional obe­sity epi­demic among school kids and to en­sure they avoid di­etre­lated dis­eases.

“We just wanted to try and make sure ev­ery kid has ac­cess to fresh and from-scratch meals,” said Cooper, who also is also di­rec­tor of Food Ser­vices for the Boul­der Val­ley School District.

A grad­u­ate of the Culi­nary In­sti­tute of Amer­ica, Cooper has 40 years of ex­pe­ri­ence as a chef, in­clud­ing 17 years in school food pro­grams. She speaks na­tion­ally about ef­forts to change how school dis­tricts feed stu­dents.

Cooper uses pro­grams such as Project Pro­duce to pro­vide tools, train­ing, re­sources and fund­ing to al­ter school lunches so they of­fer more fresh al­ter­na­tives. So far, the Chef Ann Foun­da­tion has reached more than 7,000 schools and 2.6 mil­lion chil­dren in all 50 states.

In Colorado, 23 schools and 12,771 stu­dents have par­tic­i­pated in Project Pro­duce, which pro­vides $2,500 grants through its part­ner Healthy Skoop to help kids bet­ter un­der­stand that food comes from lo­cal farms and not only from the su­per­mar­ket. Lo­cal farm­ers are en­listed to help.

Cen­ten­nial El­e­men­tary in Den­ver last year put on a Well­ness Fair where stu­dents penned fruit and veg­etable po­ems, recipe books and art­works.

At Charles Hay World School in En­gle­wood, once-a-month tast­ings were of­fered for veg­eta­bles that are eas­ily found in stores but might not be con­sid­ered a kid’s fa­vorite.

“Stu­dents not only learn about healthy foods, they are able to smell, taste and touch the fruits and veg­eta­bles they are learn­ing about,” Cooper said.

Last month, beets were of­fered for a tast­ing at the Flagstaff Academy in Long­mont.

On Mon­day, squash was on the menu, cour­tesy of the Con­dons, who run Is­abelle Farms.

“Some kids re­ally like it; oth­ers don’t,” Cooper said. “But that’s OK. Tastes change as kids get older, and we just want to ex­pose them to some­thing dif­fer­ent.”

Par­ent Krista Torvik said her sec­ond-grader has in­dulged in other Healthy Skoop tast­ings and came away with mixed feel­ings. “He’ll talk about what he ate, and some­times he re­ally en­joyed it. And other times didn’t even try it,” she said.

“But I tell him, ‘Well, at least thanks for think­ing about it.’ ” she said. “Who knows? He may change his mind about these things as he gets older.”

Chef Ann Cooper, di­rec­tor of food ser­vices for Boul­der Val­ley School District, at­tempts to get Jay Ar­rano, 5, to sam­ple some but­ter­nut squash at Columbine El­e­men­tary on Mon­day. Jay fi­nally ate the squash – but only af­ter he was given a sticker. The squash was grown at a farm in Lafayette. RJ San­gosti,

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