Greenhouse, Scratch Cooking & Salad Bar: Recipe for School Meal Success

Through the determination and hard work of the small nutrition department at Platte County School District #2 in Wyoming, grants secured in the past two school years have boosted the meal program with an infusion of fresh food. According to Food Services Director Dawndrea Daly, grants enabled the district to construct a geodome greenhouse on school grounds, pay for a salad bar and increase the number of scratch-made menu options for their school meal program.

The district of about 250 students is small but mighty. Daly proved that this summer, as the sole full-time food service staffer to provide Summer Meals to students through August. During the school year, the department has 3 staff members. The district has an open campus policy for older students, but because of the increase in fresh produce and scratch cooking, Daly said that student meal participation has continued to increase.

Food Services Director Dawndrea Daly was the sole full-time food service staffer to provide Summer Meals to students through August.

“It is our hope that by implementing these programs, we are making a good impact on our students’ lives, beyond feeding them healthy and nutritious food,” said Daly. “We are thrilled that they are enjoying the scratch meals we put so much time and thought into creating.”

Scratch cooking had been a large part of the small district’s food service history, however, over the years the use of prepared foods increased. When Daly became director, scratch cooking made a big return. Menu options including pizza, soups, lasagna, rolls, cinnamon rolls, breakfast burritos and more started to be made in-house. As Daly explained it, participation has also increased because students “eat with their eyes first,” and homemade foods has enticed them to eat school breakfast and lunch more often.

With hopes that the newly installed salad bar could remain available to students, Daly has worked with staff to provide a safe method where students are served by a staff member to take extra precautions during the pandemic.

Unfortunately, due to the impact of COVID-19 on school learning methods, the school has not been able to utilize its geodome greenhouse in 2020-21. However, when it was installed last year, Daly said students learned how to plant, grow and harvest fresh produce, which was featured in school meals and as part of the new salad bar. In addition to providing local student-grown produce for meals, a Junior Master Gardener Program was implemented allowing teachers to incorporate the greenhouse as part of their science and math lesson plans as well.

Prior to the pandemic, the department also held an on-campus baking program for students with chefs from King Arthur Flour. Students were also given all of the ingredients and instructions to bake fresh bread at home with their families, further emphasizing the benefits of scratch cooking for healthy, growing children.

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