School Districts Rediscover Value of From-Scratch Meals - NYTimes.com ⇢
Kirk Johnson via NY Times
Colorado, which has been the least obese state in the nation since federal health measurements of American girth began, is a leader in the back-to-scratch [cooking for schools] movement. Of the 100 or so districts nationally that have worked with Cook for America, a group that trains school cooks in healthier lunch-ways and ran Greeley’s boot camp, more than half are in Colorado, including schools in the largest districts in Denver, Colorado Springs and Boulder.
Nutrition experts say that many school systems around the nation, however much they might want to improve the food they serve, have been profoundly distracted by years of budget cuts and constriction. Many face structural problems, too. Some newer schools have tiny kitchens designed for only reheating premade meals, while some older schools have outdated electrical wiring that cannot handle modern equipment. Many districts, and their lawyers, have also grown fearful of handling and cooking raw meat, as food-borne illnesses like E. coli have made headlines.
“A lot of schools are looking to prepare more items from scratch, and starting to prepare more, but there are tremendous hurdles,” said Diane Pratt-Heavner, a spokeswoman for the School Nutrition Association, a nonprofit membership organization of school nutrition professionals.
Greeley’s schools will be cooking from scratch about 75 percent of the time on the opening day, with a goal of reaching 100 percent by this time next year, when ovens and dough mixers for whole wheat pizza crust will be up and running. But already, the number of ingredients in an average meal — not to mention the ones that sound like they came from chemistry class — is plummeting.
Consider the bean burrito: last year, in arriving from the factory wrapped in cellophane, each one had more than 35 ingredients, including things like potassium citrate and zinc oxide. This year: 12, including real cheddar cheese. Italian salad dressing went from 19 ingredients to 9, with sodium reduced by almost three-fourths and sugar — the fourth ingredient in the factory blend — eliminated entirely.
This is an enormously progressive trend, one that can’t have enormous impacts on regional food systems.