“It’s really worked here. Since I’ve been here, we’ve increased the amount of kids who eat lunch [at school] from about 20% to 70%,” Hurlbut said of the school food program. This photo is of this year’s runner-up local lunch. PHOTO COURTESY OF LINDSIE HURLBUT

Feed the kids

And remind them why it matters

Montana No Kid Hungry has hosted the Montana School Eats Photo Contest since 2017.

“The broader purpose behind it is really to celebrate and recognize school nutrition teams,” Jenny Martini, storytelling and communications creator with Montana No Kid Hungry, explained. “They’re such an important part of the school community, but sometimes they’re not really given the recognition for all that they do,” she continued.

Lone Peak High School (LPHS) won first place in the local foods category last year and followed up with a runner-up nomination this time around.

Lindsie Hurlbut had almost forgotten what meal the high school even submitted. This was prior to March and before the coronavirus pandemic threw things helter-skelter. It was, however, pasta with lentil-bison sauce, roasted butternut squash and cauliflower, and a pear, kale salad.

A fifth-grade teacher, Mr. Gans, in the Big Sky School District (BSSD) has a bison ranch, which is where the bison for this meal came from.

“A couple times a year, I’d say like four times a year, we’ll use his Montana bison and feature it in a menu,” Hurlbut said. The butternut squash came from the Western Montana Growers Cooperative, the lentils from Timeless Produce in northern Montana, the kale from Harlequin Produce, a small Montana farm, and the pears from Dude’s Montana Farm.

“We try really hard to educate kids on where their food is coming from,” Hurlbut, who is in her third year as the food services director for BSSD, said.

Judges for the contest have expanded over the years to include the Office of Public Instruction school nutrition staff, the Montana SchoolNutrition Association and Montana Team Nutrition in addition to Montana No Kid Hungry. As a runner-up, the food program at LPHS receives a $250 check from No Kid Hungry. Martini explained the purpose of the check is to support food systems in school, perhaps by an equipment upgrade or a staff appreciation party.

Hurlbut also receives a grant from the Moonlight Community Foundation that is used for purchasing local products. Beyond wanting kids to understand where their food is coming from, Hurlbut strives to educate students on what part food plays in Montana’s economy and how eating locally sourced foods affects carbon footprints.

“We try to highlight it in the menu so they know,” she said. A list of what is grown in the state is displayed and typically each year a high school science class is in charge of composting all food waste from the kitchen.

Composting was the focus of the food program last year, and next year Hurlbut plans to move in the Montana-grown beef direction. The goal is to secure a grant or extra funding to purchase locally grown beef to introduce into school menus. “I’m just really passionate about food. I just think it’s really important. so much of what we eat now contains so many ingredients, and I don’t think it’s really healthy for kids,” Hurlbut explained. It takes a bit more effort, but it is worth it.

“Schools just play a huge role in shaping kids’ knowledge and enthusiasm around healthy food, and there’s just such an opportunity there since kids are at school every day. It’s such an opportunity to build knowledge and enthusiasm around healthy food,” Martini said.

Cooking classes were offered to BSSD middle schoolers before COVID, as Hurlbut also believes in the importance of teaching kids how to cook. When conditions are right, these classes will start back up for kids and adults.

A Netflix series called Salt Fat Acid Heat featuring Samin Nosrat follows Nosrat to different countries as she explores foods and what salt, fat, acid and heat do to a dish. The introduction to the show describes these four elements as being integral to creating delicious meals. Understanding how to use them can make all the difference in one’s cooking.

There are a lot of bad recipes out there, Hurlbut said, and using the philosophy of really understanding the concept of food can help people become better cooks without having to follow a recipe to the letter.

These food concepts, “help people become better cooks and know what food does,” Hurlbut said, which in turn encourages kids and adults to value where their food came from.

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