What Does REAL Food Look Like in Schools
The Boulder Valley School District’s School Food Project prides itself on serving fresh, healthy, delicious, and local food, but what does that all mean?
By: Laura Smith, Programs and Grants Coordinator for Boulder Valley School District
Last fall, BVSD underwent a full-scale audit by a Registered Dietitian at the US. Healthful Foods Council (USHFC). Requesting information about supply chain operations, meal ingredients, health promotion, and nutrition education programs—the audit delved into a wide variety of healthful and sustainable food service practices.
Across the country, food service operators who stand out from others in the industry for their Responsible Epicurean and Agricultural Leadership (REAL) open their doors and books to a comprehensive review of the following practices:
RESPONSIBLE—provides nutritional benefit
EPICUREAN—preparation enhances food quality and experience
AGRICULTURAL—comes from the safest and highest food quality sources
LEADERSHIP—enables better choices
REAL Certification is a flexible, points-based metrics system. Developed through input from a diverse panel of experts from industry, academia, and government, as well as veteran chefs and restaurateurs, the review process includes menu analysis, invoice and supply chain verification, interviews and visual assessments of front and back of house operations.
In order to receive the certification, establishments must meet a minimum total score of 50 percent or higher. Receiving the REAL Certification indicates a commitment to fostering a healthier, more sustainable food environment for all stakeholders.
In November, Boulder Valley School District was named as the first public school district in the nation to become REAL Certified by USHFC.
“We are honored and proud to be REAL Certified,” said Chef Ann Cooper, Director of BVSD Food Services. “The philosophy of the BVSD School Food Project is closely aligned with that of the USHFC, especially when it comes to teaching our children to eat and appreciate healthy food.”
BVSD serves nearly 13,000 scratch-cooked meals each day, using locally sourced and organic ingredients whenever possible, while avoiding highly processed foods, high fructose corn syrup, chemicals, dyes, and food additives. Salad bars are offered daily at every school and are stocked with fresh, delicious and when possible, local farm fresh produce.
The USHFC reported that BVSD excelled in the following areas:
- Food preparation is exceptional, largely because of the focus on scratch-cooking in-house, the exclusive use of plant-based oils, and the incorporation of healthy cooking practices.
- The menu goes above and beyond USDA requirements—the district does not offer juice in elementary schools, and only in vending machines at the middle and high schools. Plus, BVSD does not offer flavored milk.
- A plethora of fresh fruits and vegetables are offered daily.
BVSD earned a particularly high score in the Leadership category – 95 percent of available points in recognition of the following:
- Plenty of water is available to students.
- Healthy, vegetarian options are always available.
- Use of sustainable trays, plates, cups, etc. is commendable.
- Nice job participating in Meatless Mondays, having a school garden, and composting!
- Great work offering so many nutrition programs!
The BVSD School Food Project remains a leader in the promotion of healthy school food. Students deserve delicious, healthy meals using high quality ingredients. They need the right nutrition to learn, grow, and thrive.
With this certification, BVSD demonstrates the ability of school districts around the country to commit themselves to sustainable and healthful food practices. As a REAL Certified food services operation, BVSD also calls upon other institutions to shift their food procurement and health promotion practices to have an enormous, positive impact on our local and regional food system. It is possible and it is worth the effort.
About United States Healthful Food Council
Established in 2012, the USHFC is a 501(c)(3) registered nonprofit, dedicated to fighting diet-related disease by realigning the food industry’s incentives with consumers’ health interests. The USHFC works towards its mission through the REAL Certified holistic nutrition and sustainability certification program. REAL Certified foodservice operators must satisfy prerequisites and earn sufficient points in the areas of Responsible (nutrition), Epicurean (preparation), Agricultural (sourcing) and Leadership (going above and beyond). More information can be found at www.eatREAL.org.
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