Long-time local Lindsie Feldner brings healthy, sustainable, delicious food options to Ophir School and Lone Peak High School—the students love it
By Julia Barton DIGITAL PRODUCER
BIG SKY—Lindsie Feldner, the food service manager at the Big Sky School District, was surprised in the lunchroom on Oct. 10 with the Montana Professional Teaching Foundations’ John Morrison and Cathy Wright Healthy Montana Kids Award.
Feldner was among eight nominees for the award, which serves to recognize a Montana educator for innovative strategies that increase student health.
“I’m just so grateful that it was a lunch program that was recognized,” Feldner said. “I hope it’s beneficial to other lunch programs out there and they see that the work they’re doing is valuable.”
During her five-year tenure, Feldner has worked hard to emphasize whole food cooking practices and sourcing produce from within the state. She explained that locally sourced and homemade food is not only more nutritious, but tastes better.
The numbers suggest that Big Sky students agree. When Feldner started the program, roughly 20% of students purchased lunches from the cafeteria; now, it’s 80%.
“It’s nice for everybody to get recognized for the hard work that they do, regardless of their position in our school,” said BSSD Superintendent Dustin Shipman. “She does a lot, her impacts have been a lot.”
Feldner was nominated for the award last year by BSSD colleagues Dr. Kate Eisele and Vanessa Wilson, and said that enough time had passed since her nomination that she assumed the award had already been given out to someone else. When she received the award, she was honored and surprised.
Recent lunch favorites among students include chicken pesto pasta, grilled chicken gyros and Thai Buddha bowls. Feldner makes foods that have various worldly origins and she has gained enough trust with her lunches that students are open to expanding their palettes. Part of this process comes from involving students on every level of food production, from ideating recipes and helping to cook, to serving their peers and doing dishes.
“This is their program,” Feldner said about the students. “Essentially, it’s only successful if they eat it.”
Student lunch helpers get a free lunch, which allowed more kids to try Feldner’s meals and ultimately encouraged them to keep coming back, contributing to the program’s steady growth.
The program’s success goes beyond the food that’s served on the lunch tray. Through making more food from scratch and using locally sourced ingredients, Feldner has cut down on packaging waste, carbon emissions from food transportation and overall food costs. The program also uses composting to sustainably dispose of waste.
The budget for lunches is tight, Feldner explained, as the school receives little funding from the United States Department of Agriculture to subsidize lunch costs. As such, Feldner’s efforts in securing grants from local organizations have been a serious factor in the program’s success.
Feldner holds a degree in nutrition and brings experiences from a long history of food service in Big Sky to the BSSD cafeteria. She started the locally renowned Wrap Shack and ran the restaurant for seven years before selling it, has worked as a private chef, ran a commercial kitchen and provides catering services.
“I think cooking is kind of a lost art and I’m trying to bring it back,” Feldner said. “It is something that every student should have going with them out into the big world. It will help them to live more economically and have skills to cook for themselves. In so many ways it’s gonna benefit them in their futures.”
A program that will be returning this year after a hiatus during COVID-19 is family cooking night, where Feldner invites students and their families into the kitchen to learn to make meals together with fresh, seasonal ingredients.