When it comes to designing a menu that is nutritious, full of variety and appealing to kindergarteners, seniors, and everyone in between, Canyons District’s Registered Dietician Emily Jenkins has her work cut out for her. For Jenkins and the Nutrition Services team, breakfast and lunch are the most important part of the day, and providing healthful meals kids will eat is a labor of love.
“We try to promote healthy food in any way we can,” Jenkins says. “I had a professor in college that would say, ‘To open people’s ears, you have to open their mouth,’ and I think that’s where it starts, just highlighting all the good that comes from eating healthy — the lifelong benefits of having a healthy diet.”
CSD’s Nutrition Services Department ensures that students have access to delicious, nutritious food whether they are at school or learning from home. This year, Canyons is providing free breakfast and lunch to all students under a waiver from the USDA so that even students experiencing financial hardship who do not qualify for free- or reduced-price lunch will not go hungry. They will receive the same, high-quality meals they would normally eat at home or in a restaurant, but with a twist to be as nutritious as possible.
“Some people won’t like whole grains or won’t like fruits or vegetables, but at least now, it’s not something foreign to them,” says Sebasthian Varas, Director of Nutrition Services, who is also a registered dietician. “They know that, ‘Oh, I get to have this at school, and I know that my pizza will be a whole grain, low fat cheese pizza, and it still tastes good.’ I’m actually quite proud of our pizza.”
Jenkins and Varas conduct taste tests among students to determine their preferred meals. They also measure the popularity of meals popular meals by school location and the age group. Jenkins crafts menus that specifically cater to elementary students vs. secondary students. Both Jenkins and Varas discussed their approach to feeding students during a recent edition of the Connect Canyons podcast. From working with a collective of schools to order top-quality ingredients at a discount to focusing on sourcing local fruits and vegetables wherever possible, a lot goes into making sure the food students receive is the best it can be. That painstaking effort goes a long way to supporting students throughout their learning process, Varas says.
“I think all of us can use a little bit of help at this time,” he said.