Jill Kidd is the Director of Food Services for Pueblo City Schools in Colorado. Jill faces the challenge of feeding almost 18,000 students in 33 schools, many of whom come from economically disadvantaged households. Almost 70% of students attending Pueblo City Schools (PCS) qualify for free or reduced meals, and over 1,300 are homeless. Jill received six Healthy Breakfast 4 Kids grants from F3, and The Lunch Box provides all the resources staff need to establish universal classroom breakfast in the schools.
Few cities can lay claim to a pepper. Pueblo, Colorado not only boasts its own pepper, it also claims that the Pueblo green chile pepper is the best green chile in the country! The same pride that the city shows in its chile can be seen in its schools. Whether it’s student achievement or the food they serve the students, Pueblo City Schools’ homegrown passion is evident.
When Jill Kidd moved to Pueblo 26 years ago to become the Director of Nutrition Services, she knew that the green chile would be a challenge. So Kidd took action. To conquer the chile, several of Kidd’s staff took turns sharing their family recipes and techniques with her. To nourish Pueblo’s school kids, Kidd began serving universal breakfast in the classrooms.
Kidd started PCS’s classroom breakfast program in 1997. She attended a School Nutrition Association conference where she learned about a classroom breakfast program in Brownsville, Texas. She then read the Dairy Council’s “Expanding Breakfast” manual and got to work.
“I knew our kids needed breakfast and only a few kids were participating in the traditional before-school program,” said Jill. “The classroom breakfast program was simple to implement. Three pioneering principals agreed to pilot the concept. It flourished from there and has now expanded to 27 schools.”
Education was a big part of launching the new breakfast program. Kidd and her staff met with principals, teachers, and custodial staff to explain the process as well as the benefits to children and achievement.
“We had success in encouraging schools to implement the program because our pilot schools loved the program and acted as our advocates with their peers,” explained Kidd. “We had some challenges in carving out the 12-15 minutes of time for the meal, but were successful in convincing most teachers that kids can eat and learn at the same time.”
Kidd’s universal classroom breakfast reaches about 80% of the children in the schools running the program. Many of the students depend on it.
“One of our special needs kids knows exactly what it means when he sees our lunch lady come through the door. He gets very excited with a smile on his face and claps because he knows breakfast has arrived. It's part of his routine and it helps him to start off his day happy.”
Kidd’s efforts to nourish Pueblo’s children don’t end with universal classroom breakfast. PCS’s Nutrition Services also offer summer lunch, afterschool supper for at-risk kids, the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable grant program, and a seamless summer option for their year-round schools. Kidd has also helped to coordinate weekend food back packs for at-risk students and pop up mobile food pantries. Currently, Kidd and her staff are in the process of establishing mini-food pantries in PCS high schools to support students in need.
Staff development is also very important to Kidd. Ten of her staff members have earned their associate’s degrees in the culinary arts, and three staff members have gone on to careers in teaching, nursing and technology.
Keeping an eye toward the future, Kidd said, “We are currently working with Livewell Colorado to assess our program, plan improvements, and provide professional development for our staff as we move toward new menus with more whole grains, reduced sodium, and even more fresh fruits and vegetables.”
And her success with the Pueblo green chile? Kidd has caught the hometown pride. “Now I have my own family recipe, and roasted pueblo green chile peppers are found in many of my recipes. You can’t beat at roasted Pueblo chile!”
F3 is embarking on a new project to expand and update The Lunch Box to better help schools create successful school food programs, especially in light of the new USDA guidelines. But plenty of the existing resources on the site can be instrumental right now in helping schools create tasty, healthy meals from scratch. Here are just a few:
In 2013, we’re going to be adding recipes, procurement tools, and USDA-compatible menu-planning software designed for schools that are facing challenges incorporating the new USDA guidelines. Be sure to check back!
Rodney Taylor knows a few things about feeding children healthy and delicious food. He and his staff serve over 35,000 students a day in the 47 schools that make up Riverside Unified School District (RUSD) in California. Of those students, 68% qualify for free and reduced student meals. Rodney is the Food Services Director of the RUSD and a Farm–to-School pioneer. He’s been connecting school children with fresh fruits and vegetables from local farms for over 15 years. He is also a big fan of The Lunch Box, saying that it contains, “tried and tested ideas that work; if utilized properly it will set you on the road to positive change in your meal program.”
In 1997, while working at the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District (SMMUSD), Taylor first piloted his “Farmers’ Market Salad Bar” program. The program not only provided fresh, local produce to the students; it also served as an alternative to the traditional school lunch, offering all five components necessary to be a reimbursable meal. When he came to RUSD, the district was facing a budget shortfall and low participation rates in their school lunch program. Thanks in large part to his Farmers’ Market Salad Bar program, Taylor has been able to grow the program by approximately $1 million per year and to increase participation rates from 47% in 2002 to 70% today.
When Taylor left SMMUSD, he was eager to apply his salad bar model to a school district that was three times larger and far less affluent. He knew it was going to be a challenge, but a challenge was what he was looking for. He had a business model that worked, but convincing others, especially those who were unwilling to change, was an uphill battle.
“Undoubtedly one of the most rewarding times that I can think of was when we fully implemented salad bars in 29 of our 31 elementary schools in RUSD,” said Taylor. “It felt great because we were one of the two districts in the country that fully institutionalized the program. The critics told me that it could not be replicated, that it was not sustainable, and that it would not modify students eating behaviors. I just love doing what others say cannot be done.”
Using the Farmers’ Market Salad Bar model, Taylor moved the nutrition services program from a district debt of $3.1 million in 2002 to a surplus of $5.1 million in 2012. But Taylor’s salad bars had a far more important success than economic viability.
“Salad Bars have made the greatest impact on children’s eating behaviors in RUSD, where our goal has been to teach children to become life-long healthy eaters,” Taylor remarked. He encourages others to make whatever changes they can to help schoolchildren to learn to love to eat healthy. “The Lunch Box has excellent strategies for transforming school food service programs with healthier foods that kids will eat, and it provides those interested in transforming their meal programs with the tools to make it happen.”
Taylor didn’t rest on his laurels after the successful implementation of his salad bar program. In 2011, he instituted a summer feeding program in which he and his staff conduct daily bar-b-ques in 24 parks and schools. Since its inception, the summer program has served over 300,000 meals to students who may otherwise have gone hungry. The program, Taylor said, “quite simply provides a safety net for all concerned.”
When asked what steps individuals can take to make positive changes in their school food service programs, Taylor responded, “There’s really no short answer to this question,” but he did emphasize outreach and communications to key stakeholders.
“We must change perceptions about what students, teachers, parents and the community have towards the food service program. This calls for innovative and creative ideas that will challenge preconceived notions. If one is to be successful, radical changes to the current programs are necessary. We must win the trust of all the previously mentioned stakeholders, and that means hard work, and marketing, marketing, marketing!”
You can read more about Rodney Taylor in an interview in the August issue of Childhood Obesity.
"The biggest impact we have had on the children is by incorporating salad bars into our menus to increase access to fresh vegetables, many from local farms," said Chef Tim. It hasn't been easy. "The biggest obstacles we face revolve around the lack of funding to serve a truly healthy meal," he continued. "We are working to overcome this obstacle by incorporating more plant-based proteins in place of meat-based proteins thus reducing the food cost of the item."
Chef Tim cites The Lunch Box as a tool that has helped him to change the way school children eat in New Haven. He says, "The Lunch Box has been a strong partner in our campaign to serve children real food. We utilize the Lunch Box for training materials and resources instead of trying to reinvent the wheel."
Chef Tim's solutions are paying off. He often sits with students during lunch time, and many of them thank him for getting salad bars into their schools. His most rewarding moments, however, are when he can convince children to taste a vegetable they've never eaten before. "The best is when I see their expression when they finally taste it," said Chef Tim. "It is not always positive but the expression itself is worth a million bucks to me!"
Tim's efforts extend beyond the school district. He has worked with Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro to help create the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, and he's worked with the White House to implement the Chefs Move to Schools Campaign. A defining moment in his career came when he saw a student putting his lunch in his backpack. When Chef Tim asked the boy why, the child responded that he wasn't saving it to eat later; it was so his sister could eat dinner that night. "That changed my life and vision for school food," shared Chef Tim. "From that moment on I decided to dedicate much of my free time to work with Share Our Strength to help put an end to childhood hunger and to serve more real food daily because these meals often are, in some cases, the only nutritious meal of the day!"
Chef Tim's emphasis on real food is evident. Among other accomplishments, NHPS can boast that the pastas, breads and rice that students eat are always whole grain; chicken nuggets and other breaded, highly-processed proteins have been replaced by chicken roasted "on the bone"; 100% of their schools have salad bars and all serve fresh vegetables prepared from scratch; and, in 2010, over 140,000 pounds of produce were purchased from local farms.
While it wasn't easy or quick (Chef Tim emphasizes baby steps), these changes are possible in all school districts with strong leaders and a little help from The Lunch Box. "The best way to create positive change is to identify the champion in the school or school district," he said. "This champion will be your vehicle to partner with to make the most changes and could be the food service director, a teacher or even a student. The Lunch Box offers many resources needed to help facilitate these changes and to get the job begun."
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