Recently, the second year dietetic interns visited the School District U-46 Food and Nutrition Commissary to learn more about school nutrition and specifically farm-to-school practices. U-46 serves families across Chicago’s northwest, suburbs and district ranks as the second largest in Illinois with 39,000 students. On a typical day, the school nutrition program serves approximately 21,000 lunches and 13,000 breakfasts. The school district is projected to conduct approximately $18 million in food sales during the 2019-2020 school year.
U-46 food service director, Elena Hildreth, and food service manager, Amelia Rothstein, partnered with local farmer and community member, Mike Kenyon, to envision a way to serve kids locally grown fresh produce. Together, they established the U-46 Going Green Garden, with the intent to support and supplement the fresh salad bars at the elementary and secondary schools, as well as provide locally grown vegetables to enhance the lunch menu.
In the future, the staff see the garden as an education tool, with classes taking field trips to the site. The garden was established on an acre outside the Food and Nutrition Commissary in Elgin. The garden contains tomatoes, eggplant, yellow squash, carrots, cauliflower, bell peppers, hot peppers, sunflowers, and herbs. Hildreth estimated it cost no more than a couple hundred dollars for the garden to become a reality. While meeting with the NIU dietetic interns, Hildreth remarked that connecting with a local farmer has been a major key to success in implementing more farm to school practices throughout the district.
In the last year, registered dietitian, Dana Colla, joined the U-46 school nutrition team. Colla has has enhanced the school breakfast and lunch menus to include more locally sourced food. Although they serve a large population of students daily, many schools lack necessary resources and equipment for cooking meals from scratch. Colla said one strategy they have had success with is working with food distributors.
Additionally, Colla is responsible for managing the menu for allergy and diabetes. This involves carefully evaluating each menu item for common allergens, including gluten, sesame, and gelatin, as well as counting the carbohydrate content of each item for students with diabetes.
The dietetic interns concluded their visit by helping the staff create seed and soil pods for the up-and-coming miniature greenhouses located within the commissary building to grow and protect plants from the cold weather. If you wish to bring a field trip, volunteer, or learn more about the U-46 food and nutrition services, you can reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org.