Colorado, the least obese state in the nation according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, is leading the way in the back-to-scratch movement, in which school cafeterias serve real, fresh food instead of processed, fat-and-salt laden meals. The New York Times reports on Greeley, Co., a mid-sized city that is breaking the stereotype of only wealthy school districts offering fresh food; sixty percent of Greeley's students qualify for free or reduced-price meals:
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.
Greeley's cafeteria staff is preparing for the changes with a week-long "boot camp" in which forgotten kitchen skills, nutritional guidelines, and food safety procedures will be taught. But the model may not be replicable in many school districts, a fact that concerns experts who observe the American obesity epidemic. From the Times:
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 Some newer schools have tiny kitchens designed for only reheating premade meals, while some older schools have outdated electrical wiring that cannot handle modern equipment.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.
(image via: http://blog.centralrestaurant.com)