EATS PC puts healthy food on Park City School District agenda | ParkRecord.com

EATS PC puts healthy food on Park City School District agenda

Madeleine Cortes and Kevin Castro participate in a cooking class put on by EATS Park City, a group dedicated to raising awareness about the importance of offering students healthy food. In its first three years, the organization has focused on putting on cooking classes and creating school gardens, but it is now taking its message to the Park City Board of Education. Representatives from the group are set to speak at the Board s Jan. 19 meeting in support of eliminating certain ingredients from school meals. (Park Record file photo)

For nearly three years, EATS Park City has spread its message throughout the community about the importance of Park City School District students eating healthy food.

Now, it plans to bring a unified voice to the Board of Education. The non-profit group is organizing a campaign called Hungry for Health, focused on getting ingredients they call the Sinister Seven — including items such as artificial sweeteners and preservatives, high-fructose corn syrup and trans fats — out of school lunches.

The organization plans to have several parents and other representatives speak in support of the campaign at the Board of Education’s Jan. 19 public meeting.

Courtney Caplan, vice president of EATS PC, said the community has shown a lot of support for the organization’s student cooking classes, taste tests and school gardens. Now, the group is trying to "increase the momentum and get more going on."

In addition to organizing a rally at the Board meeting, EATS PC created a petition on Change.org in support of having the "Sinister Seven" removed from school meals. The petition, which has been up for about a week, had 430 signatures as of Tuesday morning.

"The district listens to the community," Caplan said. "So if the community is behind EATS — which it has been very supportive of our programs — and shows the district this is an issue they support, then the district will listen."

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Ann Bloomquist, EATS PC’s president, said there is a national focus on student nutrition, and Park City is not immune. Many children in Park City don’t have access to meals made with natural ingredients, and those poor eating habits could have long-lasting effects.

"People look around Park City and say, ‘We don’t have obese kids. They’re so active,’" she said. "That doesn’t mean that they’re eating well, just because they’re burning it off from running around all day. And we do have an underserved population that does have an obesity issue. So it does exist here in Park City."

The benefits of improving school meals would even bleed into the classroom, Bloomquist said.

"There are a lot of studies out there that connect the nutrition children receive and how they learn," she said. "So the district wants to close the achievement gap. Well, nutrition is a part of it."

Bloomquist added that the district has already taken steps to make meals healthier for students, including using whole grains and offering hormone- and antibiotic-free milk and bread made without preservatives. But cafeteria staff need more resources to make larger changes and eliminate the "Sinister Seven" from the menu.

"We’ve got terrific lunch ladies," Bloomquist said. "They’re passionate, they care about the kids and they do a great job. But they can only do so much. It’s a matter of giving them the tools and the food they need to do it. This is about the school board saying, ‘Yes, this is what we want. We value this.’"

Added Caplan: "There are some good things the district is doing. But we think there’s room for improvement. We don’t want to just settle for the federal guidelines for school lunch — we think Park City and Utah can be above those guidelines in serving fresh, homemade meals."

Phil Kaplan, a member of the Board of Education, said the Board is looking forward to hearing from those involved with EATS PC at Tuesday’s meeting. He added that the Board would be receptive to making changes as long as it makes sense financially.

"I think we’re open to ways that can improve the nutrition and the quality of the food experience that are also fiscally responsible," he said.

Bloomquist and Caplan said the changes the group is asking for aren’t cost-prohibitive. Caplan claimed that several districts throughout the nation have already done so, and the value would be well worth the money.

"People in this town, if they’re passionate about an issue, we can find the resources," she said.