Monday Medical: What’s cooking in the lunchroom? |

Monday Medical: What’s cooking in the lunchroom?

Riley Polumbus

South Routt School District Food Service Manager Charlotte Whaley, left, and cook Susan Schaffner attended a culinary boot camp in Montrose this summer.

Kids say the funniest things.

In making conversation with elementary school students, I ask the obligatory question, "What is your favorite subject?" Much to my amusement, many respond, "Lunch."

What's even more funny is that lunch actually might be one of the most important subjects for the future health of our children. Many health officials believe in the need to educate our children on how to eat, and the lunchroom is the new classroom.

The Colorado Department of Health, Colorado Health Foundation and LiveWell Colorado sponsored the nation's first "Culinary Boot Camps" this summer. Professional chefs taught lunchroom employees skills and tricks for creating healthier meals that children will eat.

South Routt School District Food Service Manager Charlotte Whaley and cook Susan Schaffner attended the week-long boot camp in Montrose last July.

"It was wonderful, very informational," Whaley said. "The school lunch program can be a solution to childhood obesity, not the problem."

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Whaley and Schaffner were able to attend the camp thanks to a grant from LiveWell Colorado. LiveWell is a nonprofit organization committed to reducing obesity in Colorado by promoting healthy eating and active living. In addition to the boot camp, the school district will receive $1,000 to purchase new kitchen equipment.

The boot camp was led by a pair of classically trained chefs from New York City, Andrea Martin and Kate Adamick, and assisted by four Colorado-based chefs. Along with teaching proper terminology and tips for cooking, the course introduced a strategy for getting children to eat good foods.

"Our menu now incorporates healthier foods using what they call 'stealth health,'" Whaley explained. "For example, we now blend winter squash into our macaroni and cheese. The kids don't see a difference, and they can hardly taste it."

Whaley said she has made several changes to traditional lunches to improve meals, including:

■ Adding more vegetables to spaghetti sauce

■ Substituting brown rice for white

■ Making pizza with a homemade, whole wheat crust

■ Using real potatoes for mashed potatoes

"We are using raw, whole chickens," Whaley said. "And we are making as much as we can from scratch."

Creating healthier school lunches is more than learning a few new recipes — it requires a shift in the lunch preparatory process. Because most school kitchens are built to heat and serve processed foods rather than accommodate cooking with whole foods, new equipment is much needed.

All this effort and investment begs the question, "Will the children actually eat the food?" Several parents will be looking into this personally.

The South Routt School District is fortunate to have an advisory lunch committee. Last spring, they performed a food waste assessment. Parents volunteered to stand near the lunchroom's food dump area and take notes on what students were not eating.

Results showed that children ate fewer salad bar items on days when popular entrees were served. Unfor­tunately, the popular entrees are foods that tend to be less healthy, processed foods such as corn dogs and chicken nuggets.

"They can cook great food, but the kids have to eat it," committee member Jane Colby said. "We wanted to have a baseline to see where we are starting."

The committee plans to stage another food waste assessment next spring. They also plan to provide nutrition education for the children in the form of "taste test days." Parents will go around the lunchroom with samples of new lunchroom items and talk to students about their choices.

Colby also said the committee's long-term goals include more curriculum-based nutrition education to teach students about nutrition through other classroom subjects. Until then, the lunchroom will have to do.

Riley Polumbus is communications specialist at Yampa Valley Medical Center. She can be reached at

Healthy lunch options

■ Let your child help. Children often are more willing to eat foods they help choose or prepare.

■ Find creative ways to include fresh vegetables. Pack bite-size veggies and a low-fat dip. Sneak veggies on sandwiches. Fill celery with peanut butter.

■ Use whole-grain breads. Cut into fun shapes with cookie cutters. For variety, add whole wheat crackers instead of bread.

■ Choose lean meats: turkey, chicken, water-packed tuna, lean ham and roast beef.

■ Include one serving of fruit. Prepackaged fruit and applesauce cups are popular with children.

■ Limit sweets. Graham crackers, fat-free pudding, sugar-free flavored gelatin and oatmeal cookies loaded with raisins are good lunch-box treats.