Erin Riley: FIlling Hearts and Bellies at Grizzly Hill

As the kids play on the playground at Grizzly Hill, the smell of delicious food tempts them toward the kitchen.  Chef Erin Riley lovingly prepares two meals from scratch each day, and she’s often approached by students who are eager to know what’s for lunch.

“Providing meals for students similar to the meals I cook for my family at home fulfills my heart. A belly full of healthy nutritious food is key for being ready to learn in the classroom.”

Erin has been in her role at Grizzly Hill for 15 years, has always loved cooking, and is following in the footsteps of her mother who had the same role at the school when she was growing up.

Erin cooks for Grizzly Hill, Washington School in the little town of Washington, and a new preschool called Little Acorns.  She orders organic produce from Veritable Vegetable, hosts a popular salad bar (pre-pandemic), and provides vegetarian, gluten-free, dairy-free, and allergy conscious options for all kids.  A few of her popular items are chicken pot-pie, breakfast burritos, pasta with a sauce loaded with veggies!

“I love taking the kid’s suggestions and putting them on the menu when they recommend a meal.”

Erin admits the last two years have been challenging and it’s not easy to provide scratch-cooked meals for three school sites. In non-pandemic years the school is able to host fundraisers for local organic beef or to purchased new stainless steel trays, popsicle molds, or just to put in the general kitchen fund. This support is always appreciated.  Despite the challenges, Erin has remained committed to sourcing and producing quality food. 

“Making more connections with local farms for produce is one of my main goals. I know good food directly relates to performance in the classroom.”

Even though all kids deserve access to these nutrient dense meals, not all schools have staff and meals like Grizzly Hill.  Erin encourages other schools to move away from packaged process foods and to apply for grants for kitchen infrastructure and equipment. We honor Erin and Grizzly Hill for their commitment to good food and we continue to work throughout the region to transform school food. 

Learn more about Sierra Harvest’s school food transformation work here.