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Head Start Central Kitchen Initiative

Potential Public Health Impact

Reach: Of the 2,028 children enrolled in all SLCAP Head Start classes during the 2012-2013 school year, 1,339 children (66%) received meals from the Central Kitchen. SLCAP Head Start children not receiving meals from the Central Kitchen attend programs on school district property, and their meals are provided by school nutrition services (See Adoption for further explanation). Among the families with children enrolled in SLCAP Head Start, 100% are eligible for free and reduced-priced meals based on family income requirements and almost 50% receive services from the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC). Thus, the initiative is effective in reaching those most at-risk or in need of high quality, nutritious foods. 

Effectiveness:  Salt Lake Head Start Central Kitchen conducted a successful pilot using a smaller kitchen prior to opening the new Central Kitchen. Central Kitchen capacity was 300 meals per day during the pilot phase, increasing to 1,500 meals per day in 2009 when the new kitchen was completed, and reaching 3,000 meals per day in 2013. Central Kitchen adopted its own best practices for healthy eating, exceeding those of CACFP. Meals served to Head Start children are expected to meet Central Kitchen’s best practices. Since more documentation is needed to establish evidence of effectiveness for this outcome, the Central Kitchen initiative is classified in the emerging dissemination category.

Adoption: Of the 34 SLCAP Head Start sites, 15 sites (44%) received meals from the Central Kitchen during the 2012-2013 school year. Some of the eligible Head Start sites not receiving meals are located on school district property, and meals at these sites are provided by school nutrition services. Efforts are underway to work with the schools to allow meal delivery from the Central Kitchen, and since nine additional sites have been added for 2013-2014, 24 sites or 71% will be served by Central Kitchen. The long-term goal is to provide meals to children in all 34 SLCAP Head Start sites.

Implementation:  The information provided indicates that the Central Kitchen has been implemented effectively. Initiative developers suggested several key factors that were important to successful implementation, such as guidance and input from multi-sectoral boards and councils, engagement from various stakeholders (e.g., public and private partners, parents, teachers), and a detailed business plan for funding the construction and equipment. Conducting a pilot test or trial run using a smaller kitchen was beneficial for necessary improvements/revisions prior to opening the Central Kitchen. The Board hired an experienced food service director who could run both the business and the food side of the kitchen. To maintain a successful operation, price negotiations with vendors are as important as the ability to cook in large quantities. The program has created a supportive environment through nutrition-related education for staff, children and parents, and offers parents cooking classes that can provide certification for culinary employment.

Maintenance: The potential to maintain and grow the Central Kitchen is high. It opened in the fall of 2009, serving 1,500 meals a day. By the fall of 2012, the kitchen was serving 2,400 meals a day and plans are in place to provide meals to all children in SLCAP Head Start. The majority of the operating budget (86%) is from CACFP reimbursement, and food costs are budgeted at 50% of the CACFP reimbursement to preserve a revenue-neutral program. The remainder of the operating budget is funded by private companies, in-kind donations, and income-generating activities (e.g., catering special events, fundraising). Long-term maintenance of the initiative is feasible with CACFP reimbursement for food costs and with financial support from outside sources. Since there is a waiting list of schools wanting to join the program, the Head Start Central Kitchen Initiative is planning to add a second kitchen during the next year.