Hayden Hayden Valley Elementary School kindergartner Kita Coleman wanted a salad Tuesday, but she wasn’t able to have one.
Because the school only offers salads as a lunch option to first- through fifth-graders, Kita will have to wait until next year. The 5-year-old said she was disappointed.
“I love salads,” Kita said with a grin. “It’s yummy, and I like cheese on it.”
The elementary school began offering salads to students Nov. 1. LiveWell Northwest Colorado, which used $150,000 in grant funding this year from LiveWell Colorado to increase physical activity and healthy eating in Routt County, provided the salad bar.
Much of what LiveWell Northwest Colorado provided went toward school programs, equipment and supplies.
Steve Carlson, Hayden’s food service director, said the first day he rolled out the new salad bar, “it was like Christmas morning” for the students.
He said first-, second- and third-graders can choose between that day’s hot lunch or the salad bar. Fourth- and fifth-graders can have both. He said kindergartners were allowed to eat from the salad bar just for the first couple of days.
The salad bar is shorter than one Carlson used last year for fourth- and fifth-graders, allowing the younger students easier access. It also has a place where students can put their trays while they make their salads.
Carlson, who is in his second full year with the district, said salad bar has fruits, vegetables, beans, rice and pasta salad each day, in addition to lettuce and traditional salad toppings. He said it allows students to have all the nutritional components of a healthy meal.
“It’s a wonderful opportunity for us to teach the kids about nutrition, the choices they make, what they put in their bodies rather than just serve lunch,” he said.
In addition to the $1,800 salad bar, Carlson said LiveWell Northwest Colorado provided funding for new knives, cutting boards and serving pans.
The Northwest Colorado Visiting Nurse Association formed LiveWell Northwest Colorado to receive and allocate grant funding from LiveWell Colorado, a Denver nonprofit group. It’s the second year of a seven-year grant that will provide more than $1 million to the county, said Barb Parnell, community coordinator for LiveWell Northwest Colorado.
Parnell said each school physical education program in the county was provided with Fitness Gram software to create health reports for teachers and parents to determine how to improve student fitness. She said teachers were given activity decks — decks of cards with short exercises they can do in class with students. And each district was provided funds to send physical education and food service personnel to a workshop in Steamboat.
Parnell said funding also went to local communities. She said leftover LiveWell grant funding paid for the disc golf course in Hayden after a study was completed to evaluate how to get children safely down Hospital Hill. She also said funding paid for a recreation feasibility study in Oak Creek.
“I felt like we were able to leverage the funds we received really well this year,” Parnell said. “I’m looking forward to seeing how we can build on that next year because we’ll have more funds.”
Parnell said LiveWell Colorado would provide a $250,000 grant to Routt County next year. She said LiveWell Northwest Colorado would dedicate more funding to programs outside of schools. Plans include building after-school programs for older students, continuing to work on safe recreational spaces in Hayden and Oak Creek, working with local bike organizations to encourage safe routes and adding workplace wellness programs.
Carlson said he would like to get funding next year to build a greenhouse that would grow produce that can be used in preparing student meals. But until then, he’s focused on providing healthy choices to students, which seemed to be going well last week.
Third-grader Shjon Petersen said she liked being able to choose between the hot lunch — French toast, scrambled eggs, sausage patties and hash browns — and the salad bar Tuesday.
“You can make your own food,” she said, and added, “It’s healthy.”
Students aren’t the only ones who’ve noticed the new salad bar. Carlson said teachers love the salad bar and soups, which he started offering twice a week last year. He said the response to the food among teachers and students has been positive, with a higher percentage of school lunches sold this year compared to last year.
Carlson has worked to incorporate more healthy and from-scratch lunch choices for students since he joined the district in January 2009. He said it’s his job to serve the best quality healthy food possible.
“They deserve it,” he said about the children. “Times are tough. Unfortunately for some kids, this is the only meal they eat (a day). That’s why we have to do the best we can.”