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New guidebook aims to help local farmers and schools serve healthy meals

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Eric Galatas

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(Colorado News Connection) Colorado is working to boost the state's agricultural communities by getting more fresh, nutritious foods into school cafeterias - and a new online tool could help more school districts participate.

The effort is a key component of the Healthy School Meals for All initiative approved by voters in 2022.

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Taylor Frederick - culinary programs manager with Nourish Colorado - said over the past couple of years, school meal operators have identified best practices that can be adopted by other school districts, including how to work with local farms and ranches.

"How you can find your local producer," said Frederick, "and even how to put out specific bids for specific local items, and how to work these sorts of things into your menus."

The new Colorado Local Food Program Guidebook, available online at ',' offers tips and tools for launching and sustaining farm-to-school programs.

The guide also offers ways for parents and community members to engage with their local school district, to encourage them to opt into the voluntary program or make menu recommendations.

Frederick explained that the guide begins with a short quiz that helps direct users to the right resources.

For example, food producers who want to sell their produce to reliable kiddo customers can learn how school district cafeterias operate and purchase food.

"To better understand the school market channels," said Frederick, "the bid process, the price points that school districts are working with, their timing, and a little bit about their menus and products that they are looking for."

He said school meal operators can also get tips on how to transition from serving canned and processed foods to preparing meals with fresh ingredients through a series of training videos.

"Some different types of kitchen equipment that might be in the schools, we have training videos on those," said Frederick. "Some vegetable cookery techniques. Those were the big things that school districts and school meal authorities were really saying that they wanted."