Recap: Get Schools Cooking 2018 Workshop in Boulder, Colorado

The 2018 workshop kicked off strategic planning for grantees in four U.S. school districts

  • Grants
  • November 28, 2018
  • By: Allison Ildefonso
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Get Schools Cooking (GSC), Chef Ann Foundation’s most comprehensive program, supports school districts in transitioning their meal program from heat-and-serve operations to one centered on scratch-cooked, whole foods. The program kicks off with a workshop at our headquarters in Boulder, Colorado, followed by an assessment of each district’s current operation, strategic planning for next steps, ongoing support, and more. 

The GSC 2018 Cohort includes four school districts: Caroline County Public Schools (Denton, MD), Goleta Union School District (Goleta, CA), Marysville Joint Unified School District (Marysville, CA), and Napa Valley Unified School District (Napa, CA). Representatives from each district joined the CAF team in Boulder October 10-12 to begin their in-depth process of learning how to bring scratch-cooking to their respective districts. Attendees also included representatives from Whole Kids Foundation (a program partner), districts from a separate Minnesota-focused program and new district leadership from a previous GSC cohort. 

Over the course of the workshop, participants were treated to local Boulder cuisine from acclaimed restaurants River & Woods and Bramble & Hare; numerous breakout sessions, such as “Changing the School Food Landscape: Vision and Action” and “Menu Planning Challenges in the Fresh Food World”; and shown kitchens and cafeterias in Boulder Valley School District (BVSD).

BVSD, where CAF founder Chef Ann Cooper serves as Food Services Director, utilizes a regional production model for their food service operation, meaning the food is scratch-cooked in a handful of school kitchens and distributed to other schools throughout the district.

While BVSD is a great model for school districts, one size does not fit all when it comes to the details of food service operations. At Napa Valley Unified School District (NVUSD), for example, their student demographics are significantly different than BVSD’s. Currently, NVUSD is in a unique place, with declining enrollment but an increase in the free and reduced population. Brandy Dreibelbis, NVUSD’s Director of Nutrition Services, explained how the district is in an area with a high percentage of food-insecure and migrant families. Napa County also has the highest obesity rate in the Bay Area.

“I think it’s really important that we are feeding kids the best food possible while we have that chance with them at school,” says Dreibelbis. “There’s been a big push by parents to change school food to transition to self-operating. It’s definitely a challenge.”

Katherine Jalaty, Marketing Coordinator for NVUSD, accompanied Dreibelbis to the workshop and hopes to implement new programs in the district, including healthy food marketing to kids and lunchroom education.

“I wasn’t quite sure until I came here the magnitude and the scope of what [Brandy] was doing,” Jalaty says. “I’m really excited to have a much better picture of the plan [and] to help her get systems in place.”

Aside from school visits, this year’s workshop included sessions on everything from creating menus to financial planning and human resources.

“I love the honest breakdown of the easy mistakes that could be made,” says Tina Bond, Nutrition Site Manager at Lindhurst High School, part of Marysville Joint Unified School District.

Food Services Director for Goleta Unified School District, Kim Leung, RDN, also attended the workshop. At first overwhelmed by her own determination, Leung feels like the workshop helped her pinpoint which areas to tackle first.

“It was amazing, it was informational, inspiring, encouraging,” Leung says. “It takes a long time to implement changes and we are in the right place because we have the heart to do it.”

Vanessa Carter, RD, CDE, presented the do’s and don’ts of school menu planning to the group to help participants realize the importance of standardized recipes and menu cycles.

“It’s such a treat coming here,” Carter says. “Having those kids come into those cafeterias every single day… It’s such an environment to expose them to things that they may not have at home.”

Samantha Figueroa, Food Operations Manager for Caroline County Public Schools (CCPS), was most interested in the “food side of things.” Her district includes nine schools, each with their own kitchen. While a centralized food service operation is most often recommended by Chef Ann, Figueroa is confident that her district will succeed through a different path. CCPS is also within a local, rural county with plenty of farms, allowing for optimal partnerships with local farmers.

“There’s a lot of things that are very different than what they’re doing here,” Figueroa says. “It won’t be financially smart to make that change [to a centralized production model], but there’s definitely room for more scratch cooking within what we have.”

All of the representatives from the four districts included in the GSC 2018 Cohort left feeling better informed and ready to take the next steps in the program, leading them to healthy, scratch-cooked meals for their students. To learn more about our programs and grant opportunities, click here.

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