The cafeteria at Solvang School (K-8) in the Santa Ynez Valley is glowing a little brighter than usual these days.
For the past three years, the school has been a local leader in fresh, organic, homemade healthy lunches for its more than 600 students. This week the Viking Cafe went from a local success story to a nationally-recognized program.
The lunch program is run by Chef Bethany Markee. Markee and her staff were awarded the 2013 Golden Carrot Award from a non-profit group of doctors who honor those who promote healthy foods in school lunchrooms.
"The kids are eating their pasta, pizza, sloppy joes," Markee said. "You try to make it sound like the regular cool lunch food, but it's all organic, local and made from scratch."
Markee and the lunchroom serve more than 400 students every day. Nearly all of the fruits and vegetables come from local farms, farmers' markets and nonprofits. It's all free. That opens up more money for top-grade meats and grains that become the popular entrees students love.
"What we really love about the whole program and Chef Bethany and her outstanding staff is that they see themselves as teachers," said Superintendent Jon Karbula. "They're educating kids on great food and what that does in terms of wellness and nutrition."
After hours of prep work, Markee can be seen throughout the day engaging students and talking about healthy habits. Her lunch program is so successful that even the students who bring their lunches are asking their parents to pack healthier food and snacks.