|A New Way to Feed Kid’s at School|
Fresh Tracks Foods and Catering is owned and operated by Chef Nikki Idol and Chef Dave Pruett. They have partnered with private and community schools in the Denver metro area to offer healthy school lunches. These partnerships have allowed them so many more opportunities than the average catering company; not only in the ability to provide healthy alternative lunch programs but to forge relationships with the leadership and parents of these facilities.
Fresh Tracks have taken their healthy lunch program a step further by offering to student’s classroom and in the kitchen instruction, developing a love of food within the children. Additionally, they involve the children in the gardening and composting projects developing an understanding of the full circle from which food comes from.
LGC has taken a few minutes of the team at Fresh Tracks time to ask a few questions:
How would you portray to a parent the benefits of a healthy lunch program versus the cost?
The food that we provide for our lunch program is whole food. We do not receive bags of French fries or chicken fingers. We receive a box of potatoes and raw un-cleaned chicken breasts. We do not buy sauces, we make them. Salad dressing too! This takes time and time is money. Two reasons this makes the lunches more expensive; this food costs more and it takes a lot more labor to prepare it. It is worth the extra money and healthier for the children because it is not void of nutrients or full of chemicals, trans-fats, dyes, corn syrup and preservatives. By eating our food the children are receiving real food with real nutrition free from dangerous ingredients that may alter their ability to learn and thrive.
What improvements in student performance and behavior have you witnessed as a result of schools changing to a healthy lunch program?
Personally I was not with the school before the healthy lunch program. I can’t speak for change as a whole but I have seen wonderful changes in individuals. I will use one particular child as an example. This particular young women took my culinary and nutrition elective. From the first class I knew she would be a challenge. She seemingly did not eat or like anything. When I asked her what she ate she responded she was a vegetarian and ate mostly tortillas, corn and cheese. As I got to know her and her situation I found out she had been missing school and was sometimes unable to get out of bed in the morning. I worked with her in my class to show her the importance of a healthy diet and what that looked like. She learned why her body was not functioning properly and what it would take to remedy the problem. After she had completed my class I began seeing her in the lunch line more and more. She is no longer a vegetarian and has begun trying and eating everything that I offer. I did not have her in class anymore but I began hearing from her teachers that she was a different child. More focused, outgoing and generally happier. The real reward came when her father came to me in tears. He thanked me and said I had saved her life. I do not take credit for this change. The credit all belongs to her but without proper education no one has the chance to make the right decisions. What I can say for the overall student population is that they are very well behaved, polite, well rounded kids. They are learning what it looks like to eat real food and a variety of it. I know that this will benefit them for the rest of their lives. As the students graduate and move on to high schools in the area we continually hear how prepared, focused and well rounded they are.
How often do you rotate your menu or do you source your ingredients and menu on a seasonal basis?
The menu is written monthly. I do rotate some items while keeping some favorites all the time. I do my best to use seasonal and local ingredients. At Evergreen Country Day School, where our kitchen is located, we have a soup and salad bar option. This option makes it very easy to use seasonal ingredients. We even have a garden that provides food for the salad bar in the fall. I am currently working with the other schools to see if this option would work for them as well. The important thing to understand is that our menus are always evolving. I love suggestions from parents and students and I am always searching for new dishes that the kids will like. I have had a lot of requests for more vegetarian, as well as, gluten and dairy free options. I am currently working on items that fit these categories and will be including more of these items on the November menu.
How do you decide where to source your ingredients from?
First and for most if I can get it locally I try to do that, if it’s in season even better. I buy mostly whole foods so I don’t have to worry too much about added ingredients. I buy responsibly farmed meats by asking if they use growth hormones and antibiotics in the farming process. Organic is always better but unfortunately we can’t afford to do 100% organic yet. Mostly I find products that I know and trust and stick with them. Making my mission known to my purveyors helps them to watch out for good products that I might want to use. I read labels, each and everyone. If it has ingredients that I don’t believe in I find an alternative.
Is there a meal you wish you could put on your menu, but can’t?
There are many meals that I would like to put on the menu that just don’t fit the parameters. The meals need to be acceptable for ages 5-14. As we know palates can change tremendously over these ages and while the older children may be accepting of more items I still need to meet the needs of the younger children. The meals also need to be able to hold well while they are transported from our kitchen to the schools. Lastly, there is always to cost consideration. Even though our cost is higher than public school lunches, $4.50 is still not a lot of money to provide a balanced meal. I don’t believe you can even get a meal at McDonalds for that much money.
What can you not live without in your professional life?
I cannot live without a challenge and the feeling that what I am doing is making a difference. Offering good quality school lunches and making a living at it is challenging. If it wasn’t more people would be doing it. In this country we have made it easier to provide processed foods that are dangerous for our health than to provide real food from the earth. I am trying to create a new model that schools will be able to follow so that real food can once again become the norm.
When it’s not your turn to cook, where do you enjoy eating out?Federal Blvd. (In Denver, CO)!!! I am a junkie for different Ethnic foods. I love Vietnamese, Thai, Indian, and Mexican Cuisine. These cultures have stuck with real, traditional foods that have served their people for centuries. There is still an art to the cuisine and an understanding of why certain things are eaten. For instance Vietnamese food; there are always fresh, raw vegetables and herbs with the meal. This provides necessary enzymes for digestion and assimilation. I have a passion for discovering new and different cultures though foods.