Volunteer organization advocates for good ‘EATS’ in school
Park City is a health-conscious town with plenty of trails to hike and bike, mountains to ski on and restaurants that use locally sourced meats, fruits and vegetables. Now it can say that its children will continue to eat well at school thanks to the Eat Awesome Things at School Now organization (EATS Now).
EATS Now is a volunteer organization that is working with the school district to provide not only healthy meals to its students but to educate them on where the healthy food comes from and how to prepare, cook and enjoy it.
Susan Odell has taught adults how to cook for 13 years and has a website called Foodell.com dedicated to her passion. Now she is helping the Park City School District feed its students healthy meals.
Ann Bloomquist, co-founder of EATS, approached Odell after she spoke on a panel about organic foods and foods in the school system. Together, they met with Kathleen Britton, the director of child nutrition services for the Park City School District, to see what the food situation was in the schools.
"We were surprised to find that there were a lot of really good things going on already," Odell said. "Kathleen was already on the forefront of bringing more whole grains, fruits and vegetables into the school."
Odell said the problem is that a lot of parents are unaware of the healthy food provided at school. Therefore, they do not want their children to purchase the school lunch and pack lunches at home instead.
This negatively affects funding, because it is a federally funded lunch program, she said. The budget is based on how many lunches are sold, because the district is then reimbursed for those lunches. The more kids buy school lunch, the bigger the reimbursement and budget.
EATS is trying to increase the district’s school lunch budget in order to delve more into homemade foods at lunch than the processed food the budget can currently afford, Odell said.
For now, EATS is an educational program designed to help everyone in the district learn what healthy foods are and how to prepare meals with them.
"It’s education, but it’s at every single level: the teachers, the parents and the kids," Odell said. "It’s educating teachers about what healthy foods are, teaching parents what constitutes a healthy lunch and teaching the kids to eat the food."
They are implementing a different program at each school in the district, because there is not the same amount of volunteerism at each school. The goal, she said, is to "get it right" at one school, figure out the model and then implement it at every school across the district.
At Ecker Hill Middle School, EATS helped to build a garden outside. They built six raised plant beds to grow food from the seed as well as an indoor garden where students are currently growing herbs, spices and cherry tomatoes.
At Jeremy Ranch Elementary School, EATS is implementing an "eat the rainbow" salad bar. Odell said the goal is to have a salad bar once a month with fruits and vegetables of different colors where students can learn which colors provide which nutrients. Students will then be required to pick one fruit or vegetable of every color to put in their salad and make sure they eat the entire thing rather than throw away leftovers as practice in waste management.
At McPolin Elementary School, there will be cooking classes after school for students and their parents, and EATS is looking into the wellness program at Trailside Elementary School. The wellness program includes guidelines about snacks kids can bring into school as well as what teachers can give to their students as rewards, Odell said.
EATS is currently having trouble finding volunteers to implement a program at Park City High School, but they are going to work with the student council to get other students involved in spreading the word about healthy eating.
"We need help, anybody who has time," Odell said. "We need volunteers more than we need money, but if anybody would like to donate, we are more than happy to put that money to good use."
Odell said the organization has compiled a list of experts teachers can call on to appear in the classroom and teach healthy eating habits, so if anyone is an expert in a particular field related to healthy cooking, eating or gardening, they can contact EATS to be added to the list.
While EATS is not yet a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization, Odell said they hope they will be one by next year in order to participate in Live PC Give PC.
"Ultimately, we will create gardens at schools, add new facilities to some of the schools and purchase new equipment for the kitchens if we want to serve more homemade food," Odell said. "Right now, we are just trying to get the healthy eating education going."
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