Nutritional Security for Utah’s At-Risk Children
What We Do
The Central Kitchen prepares nutritious foods from scratch and delivers meals to children enrolled in Head Start education, both during the school year and in the summertime. The Central Kitchen also serves children in select after-school and child care programs, including the YMCA, Boys and Girls Clubs, University of Utah children’s programs, and more.
With malnutrition and obesity rates high among low-income children, the nutrition provided by the Central Kitchen initiative is essential to the health and well-being of at-risk children in Utah.
For some Utah children, the meals they receive at Head Start are the only meals they’ll receive during a day. For others, the diets they have access outside of our program may be high in fats and sugars. The Central Kitchen helps ensure that all Head Start children go home with at least two-thirds of their daily meals and that the nutritional value of these meals is as high as possible.
In operation since 2010, UCA’s Central Kitchen is a successful social enterprise serving more than 5,700 meals per day to Head Start children, after-school programs, charter school students, and child care facilities, both during the school year and the summer break.
During the summer, UCA’s Central Kitchen delivers 1,400 meals a day, providing not only free breakfast, lunch, and snacks but also free dinner to low-income children ages 18 and younger. The Central Kitchen runs the summer food program at 3 sites throughout Salt Lake County. This program runs for 10 weeks each summer.
Family enrichment is also a part of the Central Kitchen’s summer program. At dinnertime, family activities (games, crafts, workshops, etc.) are planned for each day and location to engage the entire family and to create a more inviting atmosphere to these families in need.
Preschool children aged 0-5 who are also enrolled in Utah Community Action Head Start or Early Head Start are eligible to get daily meals through the Central Kitchen.
To enroll your child in Head Start or Early Head Start, click here.
Healthy Eating Standards
As part of the Central Kitchen initiative started in 2009, Utah Community Action established its own best practices for healthy eating, requiring meals catered through the Central Kitchen to meet or exceed the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP) standards.
Our best practices for healthy eating:
- Foods prepared from scratch ingredients; minimal use of pre-packaged foods
- Fresh fruit and vegetables served with every meal
- Access to a wide variety of fruits and vegetables
- 100% fruit juice
- Locally grown and, when possible, organically grown foods
- Whole grain products, including pasta
- Lean protein choices
- White milk (whole milk for children aged 1–2 years and nonfat milk for children aged 2–5)
- Low-fat and nonfat dairy foods
- Foods low in fat, sugar, and salt
- Cereals low in sugar
- Foods not fried
The Head Start Central Kitchen initiative focuses on the individual/interpersonal level of the socio-ecologic model (children and their teachers and parents), with a secondary focus on the organizational level (preschools).
UCA’s Central Kitchen initiative is an emerging intervention based on its use of evidence-based strategies. The initiative shows promise, but evidence in support of effectiveness is not yet available.
The Head Start director and health manager, troubled by the poor quality of meals served to children enrolled in Head Start, started exploring how Head Start could provide high-quality, nutritious meals.
Utah Community Action decided to establish our own set of best practices for healthy eating and to find a vendor who would meet their price requirements and provide delivery of 2,400 hot meals each day. No vendor could be found to meet these criteria. Consequently, Utah Community Action began exploring the concept of finding and operating their own kitchen facility. They sought input from a broad variety of sources and visited a number of central kitchens, ranging from San Diego, California, to the north side of Salt Lake City.
After some challenges, UCA found a kitchen space that needed renovation to bring it up to code. Construction began. During renovation, a temporary kitchen was found in a Greek Orthodox Church. During this pilot phase, we hired a food services director/chef and other kitchen staff and developed and tested systems for operating the kitchen. The food services director played an important role in developing the building plans for the Central Kitchen.
Renovations were completed, and Utah Community Action officially launched the Central Kitchen. What started as a pilot program serving 300 meals a day has turned into a social enterprise serving more than 5,700 meals per day to our Head Start children and various other children in the community.
Read about our ribbon-cutting ceremony!
The primary goal of the Utah Community Action (UCA) Head Start Central Kitchen is to control the quality of food provided to Head Start children. The full initiative consists of a central kitchen that provides affordable, high-quality meals and snacks that are served in an environment that emphasizes modeling of healthy eating and providing positive reinforcement and education about new foods.