Caliche Schools’ kitchen manager wins regional recognition – Sterling Journal-Advocate – Advice Eating

The national non-profit School Nutrition Association (SNA) has named Crystal Jo Bruns, Kitchen Manager at Caliche Schools in the RE-1 Valley Schools District, Southwest Regional Manager of the Year. The award recognizes the dedication, resourcefulness and compassion of SNA members who have done outstanding work to ensure students have been fed during the pandemic.

“I was in shock, I didn’t even know I was nominated,” she said upon finding out she’d won the award.

Bruns is the kitchen manager at the school her children attend, which gives her extra motivation to ensure the food served exceeds the students’ everyday expectations. She will have worked for RE-1 Valley for eight years in August, spending the first five years as a cook in Caliche and then moving to Campbell Elementary where she was kitchen manager for two years before returning to Caliche last August.

“I have always been interested in food and cooking. I started with my grandma when I was very little and then I moved on to 4-H, I made food,” Bruns said.

As a stay-at-home mother, she was looking for something to occupy herself when her youngest son started kindergarten, and when a position in the kitchen opened up, she didn’t hesitate.

Under Bruns’ tutelage, smoothies and parfaits were added to the breakfast menu twice a week, and on those days the school had almost 100 percent attendance at the Breakfast After the Bell program.

The school is also now seeing more teachers participating in the lunchtime program. Bruns has created several different salad recipes each week, which tempts the majority of teachers to eat her salads for lunch. She says the salads are also available for students; They’re placed in a to-go box that includes meat, cheese, a grain, and all the veggies.

Bruns loves to cook and is also the field editor for Taste of Home Magazine, has entered many recipe contests and has published recipes in many magazines and cookbooks and previously wrote weekly recipe articles for the Julesburg Advocate.

She always wants to share her cooking skills with those who are willing to learn. Bruns highlights the hard work of the school kitchen on social media, posting pictures and menus to encourage students to participate. She is also encouraging parents to come to the cafeteria now that COVID restrictions have been lifted and they are allowed to eat with their children.

Caliche Schools is smaller and more rural within the district, which offers some great advantages for being creative in the cafeteria. Bruns invited local veterans to a Veterans Day lunch with the students and invited parents to the cafeteria for a special Thanksgiving lunch with their children.

“Crystal Bruns has had a positive impact on their school community. She is always willing to train staff on new skills and develop recipes to provide a great experience for her student clients,” said SNA President Beth Wallace, MBA, SNS.

Bruns has been known to pay SNA fees for others to attend conferences together. She understands the value of SNA training seminars to improve her job. Bruns attended a culinary school offered to SNA members and found it invaluable to her career in child nutrition, even teaching others the knife cutting skills she was learning.

Bruns has noticed how important the meals she and her staff serve can be to some students at her school.

“In Sterling and in Caliche we have a lot of children who get their only meals at school so we make sure the children have a good breakfast and we can provide them with lunch and then we also have a snacking program at least two healthy ones each day Meals and a good snack,” she said.

That’s why she’s deeply concerned that a federal program that provided free school meals to all students during the pandemic is ending at the end of June unless Congress takes action.

State legislatures have been working to ensure free meals continue in Colorado. While SB22-087, which would have tapped state general funds to pay for free school meals, has stalled, lawmakers are now working on HB22-1414, which would ask voters by vote in November whether they want to limit tax deductions so that the wealthiest households until Raise up to $100 million to fund the program beginning in the Fall 2024 school year.

Bruns wants to encourage everyone to reach out to their lawmakers and let them know they’d like to see free meals continue. She points out that under the previous free and discounted lunch program, some families who qualified for the discounted meals but not the free meals could not afford those costs.

“If the state of Colorado doesn’t implement the free meals, there will be kids who are hungry because their families can’t afford to pay for the food,” Bruns said. “If the state of Colorado can enforce free meals, it’s just going to make our lives a lot easier. We will continue to support children, but if we have to start preparing paid meals again, we will likely have to reduce kitchen staff hours and such, and we are already struggling to retain kitchen staff. So if it doesn’t work, we will harm children and families in the district. I think it’s important that we try to push our lawmakers to pass this because it’s really important to have all the good that we can offer these kids.”

The Manager of the Year Award honors Louise Sublette, a leader in school nutrition in her state and in the National School Nutrition Association. During her 43 years in the profession, Sublette has worked in many areas of the hospitality industry – public schools, colleges, hospitals and nutrition programs for the elderly. Sublette has dedicated her career to honoring school nutrition professionals and ensuring those who work in school canteens have access to professional development opportunities to empower them to make their school lunch programs a success.

Bruns was named Southwest Regional Manager of the Year during an online School Lunch Hero Day (SLHD) awards ceremony on May 2. The accomplishments of Bruns and all of this year’s SNA honorees will also be recognized in a special publication promoting SNA’s annual SLHD social media campaign on Facebook.com/TrayTalk and TrayTalk.org.

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