The Evolution of School Food in Park City
The school food programs in the Park City School District have been evolving over the last several years to offer healthier options for our students. Through the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act 2010 championed by the First Lady and signed by President Obama, USDA made the first major changes in school meals in 15 years.
In anticipation of these changes, former Park City Child Nutrition Services Director, Kathleen Britton, implemented the forthcoming guidelines ahead of the required timelines. Whole grains, fresh fruits and vegetables, and lower fat, sugar and sodium foods were introduced and replaced less nutritious options. However, as the food changed and staffing budgets tightened, students did not receive education on why the food was different. As a result, participation in school lunch dropped and those students who did participate were more likely to discard the healthier options than eat them. This is why EATS came to be.
EATS Park City first approached Kathleen Britton in winter 2013 to learn about the school food programs and learned that education was a vital component of having a sustainable school food program and healthier kids. EATS formed a partnership with the Park City School District (PCSD) and helped implement education programs through Taste Tests, Cooking Classes, School gardens and community awareness activities. By educating our students and community about healthy food choices, our goal is to have an environmentally and financially sustainable school food program that serves only nutritious, fresh foods that kids will eat and nurtures a generation of eaters who have varied tastes and a healthy, respectful relationship with food.
Over the past few years, the overall school lunch participation level in the Park City School District hovers around 50%. At the elementary schools, that number is much higher, averaging 65% participation. As students get older, the number drops. At Park City High School, where students are allowed off campus during lunchtime, participation is as low as 15%. The number of lower income students that participate in the free/reduced food programs is approximately 22% districtwide. Therefore, it is important to continue to develop food offerings that entice student and parents to purchase school food in order to sustain a financially healthy school food program.
Quality vs. Cost
Economics play a key role in what is offered in the cafeteria. Park City’s food program is self-reliant: NO Park City tax dollars fund this program. Federal and state tax dollars contribute based on lower income participation, but the majority of revenue comes from lunch purchases. By shifting our school food program toward more whole food and meals made from scratch, more students will purchase school food, helping to sustain the program.
The District Learning Plan
Superintendent, Dr. Ember Conley, showed her commitment to our students’ health by including an overall Goal in The District Learning Plan document which will guide the Park City School District over the next five years.
The goal states: Continue to develop a healthy, nourishing food environment as a part of an overall wellness policy for our students, which supports academic excellence and lifelong health and wellness habits.
In addition, Elizabeth Strasser, current Child Nutrition Services Director, is dedicated to continually improving the quality, variety and taste of school food as well as encouraging a clean, safe and happy environment in which to eat. With this dedication and support, the Park City school food program will continue to move in the right direction and our students will benefit both academically and physically.