Oct 5, 2021 - News
DPS doubles down on healthy meal options for students
Illustration of a lunch shaped like a smiling face
Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Denver students are saying goodbye to mystery meat on their lunch trays.

What’s happening: Denver Public Schools is working to become a national leader in food quality, aiming to serve 100% of its meals from scratch for the district’s 90,000+ students.

Why it matters: Homemade meals tend to be healthier and more nutritious than ultraprocessed foods, which can hinder kids’ energy, focus and cognitive development in the classroom.

  • Nearly a third of Denver children — particularly those from low-income households — are considered overweight, and a quarter of kids eat less than one serving of fruits and vegetables per day, city documents show.

Driving the news: The Denver City Council on Monday approved a $1 million taxpayer-funded grant to buy a half-acre greenhouse to grow fresh salad ingredients for students citywide.

  • Once constructed, the facility will sit on an empty lot in the southwest suburbs of Denver at 4900 S. Field Way.

Context: The move follows DPS’ partnership this year with Brigaid, a Connecticut-based startup, to help meet its goal of serving scratch-made meals — like roasted chicken and lentil salads — across 166 schools over the next three years.

  • A dozen professional chefs are actively working with DPS’ kitchen staff districtwide to ramp up the program, Brigaid’s biggest yet.
  • The contract, worth $3.7 million, is funded through nonprofit and city grants.

What they’re saying: "We believe healthy school meals are actually a significant lever towards academic success," Theresa Peña with DPS Food & Nutrition Services tells Axios.

  • Serving enticing and nourishing cafeteria fare also "changes the narrative that school meals are for everyone, not just for poor kids," she says.

By the numbers: DPS serves roughly 32,000 breakfasts, 45,000 lunches and 9,000 snacks every day, according to the district’s website.

  • About two-thirds of DPS’ students were eligible for free or reduced-price lunch as of October 2020.

What’s next: A groundbreaking ceremony for the new greenhouse will be held at noon today.

  • The project is slated for completion in mid- to late-April 2022.

The big picture: "Healthy school meals have the potential to improve dietary quality and reduce diet disparities between lower and higher income children," Denver’s public health department spokesperson Courtney Meihls tells Axios.

  • "We expect that the DPS greenhouse project will contribute to health equity in the school district by providing more healthy fresh vegetables for school salad bars across the district," she says.
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