Free Farm-to-Table Meals for Kids and Their Families
Young actor and circus artist Shanti Khalsa loves the Moving Arts Española Healthy Meals Program. “Laura’s food is so good. It makes me happy and it helps me focus,” she said. Shanti is one of approximately 150 children who receive farm-to-table, vegetarian after-school meals prepaared by chef Laura Cox at the facility north of Española, New Mexico on the Pueblo of Ohkay Owingeh.
Healthy meals are an integral part of Moving Arts Española’s after-school care program, which also features free academic tutorial support and affordable, high-quality instruction in circus arts, dance, drama, fashion design, gymnastics, music and visual arts. Meals and tutoring are free for registered students, and scholarships are available to cover the minimal class fees.
According to the Feeding America report, Map the Meal Gap (2017), New Mexico ranks third in the nation for highest rate of childhood food insecurity. Approximately 25 percent of New Mexico K-12 students are living in “food-insecure” households. The USDA, which funds the Moving Arts program through a grant managed by Help New Mexico, defines food insecurity as “the limited or uncertain availability of nutritionally adequate and safe foods or limited or uncertain ability to acquire acceptable foods in socially acceptable ways” (USDA Economic Research Service, 2017).
“The Healthy Meals Program was a direct response to the needs of hungry kids,” said Artistic Director Roger Montoya. “We started in spring of 2016 with a couple of slow cookers filled with beans and posole. Last year, we served over 9,000 complete meals to hungry kids, their family members and caregivers. It’s been an amazing success and the community loves it.” Program Director Jessica Molla said, “Folks contact us all the time to ask if they can help serve the kids meals or donate funds and supplies. We are so grateful for the community’s interest and support.”
The meals are prepared and served fresh daily Monday through Thursday between 3:30 and 6:00 p.m. by Moving Arts’ own in-house chef, Laura Cox. The meals are fully USDA compliant, and feature seasonal fruits and vegetables sourced from local farms in the Española Valley and other nearby rural communities.
Menus range from familiar options like healthy burritos and whole grain pizza to more exotic dishes like ratatouille and curried stews. Cox, who has a background in early childhood education and has worked with Cooking with Kids, says she loves coming up with meals that are familiar but just a bit challenging. “We are very fortunate to live in this fertile valley and have access to fresh farm produce,” Cox says. “I love to prepare meals that use readily available ingredients with the hope that it will inspire families to use more fresh produce at home.” Most kids are willing to try something new and different, and many come back for seconds.”
A parent survey reports that 85 percent of the children who participate in the meal program have exhibited greater focus while studying and greater general physical wellness.
In addition to the USDA funding, the Frost Foundation and Siete del Norte CDC have supported the program with startup funding and a donation of commercial grade serving equipment.
Moving Arts is located at 368 Eagle Drive, Ohkay Owingeh (just north of the Ohkay Casino off of Highway 68). For more information or to help support the Healthy Meals Program, call 505.577.6629 or visit movingartsespanola.org