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Earth Day at the Boulder Valley School District!

In addition to acting as one of the leaders in reforming school meals across the country, Chef Ann Cooper also serves as Nutrition Services director of the Boulder Valley School District (BVSD) in Boulder, Colorado. In the 48 schools of BVSD, Chef Ann and her crew have installed salad bars full of fresh fruits and vegetables in all schools, replaced all milk (even all of those flavors) with a refrigerated “cow” dispensing local organic milk, and moved to a mostly scratch cooked menu.

Lots of exciting things have been happening with these changes, and slowly but surely students are getting used to the new healthier food. This Earth Day provided a great time to reflect on the changes the district has made since August of 2009. I have been working with the district since the start of the new food changes, and have seen some remarkable transformations.

All in all Earth Day at BVSD was wonderful! I started out at seven am at one of our 31 Elementary schools, Superior Elementary. The district held a Bike to School Day to help celebrate Earth Day and tons of students, staff, and teachers participated - even though it was cold and extremely windy… At Superior, part of the reward for biking or walking to school was a nice red apple from Nutrition Services. I figured many of the kids would scoff at the offer and turn us down, but the opposite happened. The students would take the apple with both hands and hold it as if it was a precious gift! I even saw them eat the apples as well. In a world where candy is often a reward for good deeds, I was surprised to see the kids gratefully accept a healthy apple. I have watched as candy is handed out to greedy hands. For candy, kids often get overly excited and will grab, pounce, and push to get the sweet treat. For the apples, they politely waited in line, were appreciative, and still seemed to enjoy the experience. I realize that this appreciation might have been due to the time of day or the group of kids, but this short moment gave me hope that the sweetness of fresh fruit will outlast the candy craze!

Next event of my great Earth Day was a “Rainbow Day” event followed by an all-school Earth Day assembly at Ryan Elementary School. Back at the beginning of the semester, we started hosting “Rainbow Days” in all 31 of our Elementary schools. Rainbow Day is simple: all students get a free salad from the salad bar. If they make a rainbow on their tray out of the various fruits and vegetables on the bar, and then eat everything they took, they receive a special sticker. While the concept is very simple, Rainbow Days work like magic for our fruit and vegetable consumption! To make the rainbow, students are often more adventurous at the salad bar than normal, and will do almost anything for a sticker, including eat what they took! After Rainbow Days our staff see students creating nice looking side salads from the bar in addition to their main course. They hear students discussing what’s on the salad bar, and often they have to refill more than normal! Some students who normally bring lunch to school will even start buying school lunch just to get to that salad bar. After lunch, Rainbow Day stickers on shirts, the students entered the gym for an all-school Earth Day assembly.

This was, in fact, the second Rainbow Day for the students at Ryan Elementary. The first time around, Nutrition Services staff were not the only adults to be impressed with the effect Rainbow Day had on their students. The event also happened to catch the eye (and ears!) of the school’s music teacher, Amy Self. She was so impressed with the changes in the lunch room and the Rainbow Day event – that she wrote a song about it! “A Rainbow on My Plate” is a catchy, fun, and smart song with lyrics like: “…the colors make me feel so alive, with food so fresh I can’t wait to try!” The song also ties in Earth Day as it incorporates the theme of ‘healthy eating makes a healthy planet’: “…Organic food is healthy for our bodies and the earth. Mother Nature will provide for us when we respect her worth!”

Carrot winner watches the Rainbow Song performed

Chef Ann came to speak with students at the Earth Day assembly as well. Each student got a red bracelet from Ann’s foundation, the Food Family Farming Foundation that said “I Matter, Feed Me Well!” She had the whole room say it at once and talked about the meaning of the words. She spoke with students about the connection between good food and the environment and then talked about the salad bar at their school. She had students name their favorite fruits and vegetables and let them know that they could find almost all of them at the salad bar! Their favorite vegetable across the board was carrots. We brought a little box filled with dirt and carrots with tops to show the students that all fruit and vegetables come from the dirt and six lucky students were chosen to “pick” the carrots from the dirt. It was so exciting to see so many hands shoot up – simply to get a carrot in reward! It reminded me about how happy the students at Superior Elementary were to receive the apple for biking to school. Drawing excitement around healthy food allowed the students to think of healthy food as a GOOD thing and not something to turn down or run from. We often don’t trust our children to like healthy food so we avoid offering it to them in the first place. Kids will eat healthy food – it just has to be presented in the right way – with the right amount of seasoning!

This Earth Day, I also helped run an afterschool cooking class for young parents at University Hill Elementary school. For the cooking class, we decided to prepare an easy pasta, with a healthy and seasonal theme! Our Spring Pasta included: asparagus, peas, lemon zest, and an easy-to-make parmesan sauce. We wanted to show the parents that healthy and seasonal cooking can taste delicious! The nine parents and their children chopped, sautéed, and stirred together as they created their evening meal. It was great to see kids as young as four helping their parents in the kitchen. This pasta dish was full of green and I was certain at least a few of the kids would turn it down. I was impressed, however, as each kid ate their entire dish and even came back for more! Involving kids in cooking and shopping for food allows them to be a part of the process and ensures that they will be more likely to eat what they helped pick out or create. For dessert we made whipped cream together and brought out some fresh strawberries – the perfect ending!

For me Earth Day at BVSD was exciting and enlightening. I was impressed as many students showed me that delicious fruits and vegetables have not taken a back seat to candy and sweets. They are in fact, on their minds and when offered, many kids will get just as excited about them as they would for the alternative!

We will keep working here at to get healthy food on the plates of school children across the country. What are you doing to get your kids to eat their fruits and veggies? Comment here!


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