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Meet Rick Hughes & Jamie Humphrey

School Food Allergy Action Hero

Rick Hughes

We recently enjoyed chatting with Rick Hughes, Food and Nutrition Services Director in Colorado’s school district 11, and Jamie Humphrey, Registered Dietitian- Food and Nutrition Services Colorado Springs School District 11. Here is what we learned.

ALLERGY FREE TABLE: You have made incredible changes in the food service in your school district. Tell us about those changes and what inspired you to make them.

RICK HUGHES & JAMIE HUMPHREY : A lot of it started a few years back when Rick watched movies like ‘Food, Inc.’, and asked the question “Is our food system really that bad?” In doing research about our food system and our nation’s health, he realized it was time to do something about it. He found that there are many things added to the foods that we consume in our culture that could potentially inhibit student learning. Because our goal is to positively impact student learning by serving foods that nourish both the brain and body, we decided to make changes to our menus. At that point, we looked at our menu and put together a plan on how to implement the removal of highly processed foods from our menu items while adding healthful items and transitioning to scratch cooking. This is what we refer to as the D11 Good Food Project. As part of the D11 Good Food Project, we developed a set of standards that would help to guide us when looking at foods that we serve or may consider serving. For example, if a product contains an ingredient that goes against these standards, we don’t include it on our menu.

When beginning this journey to ‘Good Food’, we didn’t want to shock our students with the implementation of scratch cooking and removal of processed foods. Since this process included the addition of foods that some students did not recognize, and removal of foods that they ate frequently, we knew changes had to be made gradually. The result has been very positive. Our program utilizes the Colorado farm-to-school program when possible from which we purchase seasonal, local fruits and vegetables. Other improvements over the years have been adding salad bars in every school and removing chocolate milk from elementary and middle school due to high sugar content. Each semester we make a few more changes. We have been purchasing grass finished, hormone and antibiotic free beef from a local company for several years as well. When the ‘pink slime’ issue was in the news, we had no reason to worry because we can trace our beef back to the ranch where it came from. Our milk is free of rBST, and comes from a local company. Last fall we featured local organic peaches from the western slope of Colorado on our menu and received a lot of positive feedback from students and teachers. Some of our students had never eaten a fresh peach until we featured them on the menu that day.

When a vendor asks us to try a new product we can cross check their ingredients with our standards. This allows us to make a decision whether to add a new menu item that complements our program. Every semester we tailor our menu to what the students enjoy yet include healthy, natural, whole, ingredients. Our team gathers feedback from our kitchen managers and students to plan what items will be featured on our menus.

Allergy Free Table: Here is an example of the D11 Good Food Project:

The D11 Good Food Project:
Food… it sustains life. Good Food contributes to a good life!
Characteristics of Good Food are the following:

  • No growth hormones, antibiotic free
  • Fresh fruits and vegetables
  • Whole grains
  • Free of artificial dyes
  • Free of artificial preservatives
  • Free of hydrogenated oils (or Trans Fats)
  • No added sugars including high-fructose corn syrup
  • Food that is “from the earth” and “good for the earth” with minimal packaging
  • Foods that are not “highly processed”
  • Foods that are “natural” or “whole”..

ALLERGY FREE TABLE: Regarding students with food allergies and other food related illness; what is your department policy with respect to accommodating students with special dietary needs?

RICK HUGHES & JAMIE HUMPHREY : For students with special dietary needs such as: food allergy, anaphylaxis, celiac disease, and intolerances we have a packet of forms for parents/guardians to have completed and signed by their doctor. Although we don’t receive copies of 504 plans we will accommodate special dietary needs as long as our forms are completed properly and signed by a licensed physician (or medical authority in the case of non-life threatening food allergies and intolerances). We are required to make accommodations if the licensed physician dictates the need. The information provided by the physician on these forms helps us determine the students’ dietary needs and if accommodations can be made. We classify special dietary needs into 3 categories:

1. Life Threatening/disability – anaphylaxis/celiac or texture modifications, for example that are threatening and/or a disability
2. Not life threatening – solid food sensitivity/non-life threatening food allergy, food intolerance
3. Lactose/fluid milk intolerance.

We work closely with parents and students with anaphylaxis (aka life threatening food allergy) and celiac disease. This year we added a special diet management system called ‘AllerSchool’. This program allows parents to use the AllerSchool program and view menus and ingredients of school menu items. Students that have a life threatening special dietary need or a disability have a custom profile that we create for them that allows them to order meals in advance and the order is electronically sent to our cafeterias. Their meal is prepared for them in a designated, allergen or gluten safe area and ready when they arrive for breakfast or lunch in their school cafeteria. Students with non-life threatening special dietary needs can use AllerSchool program as well to view the ingredients of menu items to help them plan which foods are safe for each breakfast or lunch meal.

Colorado Springs School District 11 has about 30,000 students. The AllerSchool program has allowed us to work in partnership with parents to help them work with their students to make menu choices that are safe for them. Otherwise, it would be very difficult to address all of the dietary needs and desires of the student population.

ALLERGY FREE TABLE: Have you seen a rise in students with special dietary needs over the years?

RICK HUGHES & JAMIE HUMPHREY : Yes, definitely an increase, especially students with celiac disease.

ALLERGY FREE TABLE: Tell us about how AllerSchool got started at District 11?

RICK HUGHES & JAMIE HUMPHREY : We are the first school district to use the program. We worked in partnership with the developers of this program to make it more applicable for the school setting. We started using to manage our special diets at the beginning of the 2011-2012 school year. We have had parents that have said “Prior to using this system, I did not feel comfortable allowing my student to eat at school. Now that I can view the ingredient of each menu item, I feel more comfortable allowing my student to eat at school”. Last year a parent of a child with celiac disease called us often to check ingredients. This year the parent feels more comfortable with her student eating at school because she can look at the ingredients through AllerSchool and determine what menu options are safe to eat. This student now eats in the cafeteria at least two times a week, and is so excited and happy to eat at school. We have had several parent comments similar to this one.

ALLERGY FREE TABLE: If you could make improvements in K-12 school district food service programs across the nation what would they be?

JAMIE HUMPHREY: I would promote the removal of highly processed foods and encourage the transition to meals made from scratch from real ingredients.

RICK HUGHES: If I had to make improvements, I would encourage districts to continue to push toward scratch cooking to serve healthy, sustainable meals to students that are free of artificial ingredients.

ALLERGY FREE TABLE: What advice can you give to parents who have children entering school for the first time and have a food related illness and will be using the school lunch program (and possibly breakfast too)?

RICK HUGHES & JAMIE HUMPHREY : Contact the food service department to learn about their policy. They will likely have specific paperwork that needs to be completed and signed by a medical authority or licensed physician. To make this process easier and to ensure that accommodations can be made from the beginning of the school year, be sure to get paperwork completed and submitted well in advance of the start of school. Become educated on their process and how they prepare food. Ask how you can determine which ingredients are used and if there is a special menu for students with special dietary needs. In addition, ask what measures are taken to make sure the food your student would be served has not come into contact with other allergens.

Most school foodservice departments want to serve your children and are happy to accommodate in any way they can.

ALLERGY FREE TABLE: Thank you so much for taking time to chat with us and helping keep our children healthy and safe

More about D11 Good Food Project

More about Colorado Springs School District 11 Food & Nutrition Services

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