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Free Healthy School Meals program for public school students underway

© CherriesJD
Eric Galatas

(Colorado News Connection) After Colorado voters approved a measure to provide free meals to all public school students regardless of their ability to pay last year, 41 community-based groups across the state are working to support and promote the new program in hard-to-reach communities.

Rachel Landis, executive director of the Good Food Collective, which serves the state's Four Corners region, said school meals are one of the primary sources of calories and nutrition for a large portion of students.

PROMO Food - School Breakfast Lunch Menu - iStock - FotoDuets

© iStock - FotoDuets

"By investing in healthier school meals -- and then universal access to those -- we are ensuring that students are able to access the nutrition that allows them to learn, and to succeed," Landis contended. "And ultimately live up to their full potential as Colorado residents."

The Colorado Access Foundation and The Colorado Health Foundation have committed a combined $1.5 million dollars to promote the benefits of the state's new Healthy School Meals for All initiative. Families no longer have to enroll for free meals but groups are helping parents complete benefits applications which can help schools get additional funds. And they are encouraging parents to join local advisory boards to help shape their kids' school menus.

The new program is also expected to be a boost for Colorado's independent farmers.

Cooking - Home Food Fish Vegetable Fruit Meat - iStock - TanyaLovus

© iStock - TanyaLovus

Justice Onwordi, impact director for Colorado Blueprint to End Hunger, said beginning next year, schools that choose to opt in will be able to tap into ten million dollars available to buy nutrient-rich, locally sourced food.

"We're also trying to work with schools to build relationships with local producers, so that when that funding is available, more schools are encouraged to utilize that," Onwordi explained. "So they can provide more scratch cooking in their schools, and ensure they have more fresh food for the students."

PROMO Food - Vegetables Basket Cooking at Home - Pixabay - skeeze

© Pixabay - skeeze

Landis pointed out schools are also finding creative ways to dispel the stigma frequently associated with cafeteria food. She pointed to a successful hydroponic farm in a Durango middle school where, as a part of their science curriculum, students get to eat what they grow.

"The high school just picked that up," Landis noted. "And then in neighboring Montezuma county there's a school to farm program. They are training up the next generation of farmers, and some of that food ends up in dining room halls."