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From Our Kitchen to Yours: Dulce Zelaya

Dulce Zelaya, assistant kitchen manager For Dulce Zelaya, being the assistant kitchen manager at Polton Elementary is more than a job. It’s a way of making the world a better place. Zelaya joined the Cherry Creek School District five years ago and has loved every moment of her time ensuring students have healthy and delicious meals.

“Food is love,” Zelaya said. “Every time we feed our kids is a special moment because we know we’re making a difference for them.”

The students at Polton call Zelaya “Miss Candy,” a reference to the meaning of her first name in Spanish. They have learned her motto -- “Happy tummy, happy kid” -- and proudly show off after they have eaten all their food. As a single mother with three children (including her own picky eater), Zelaya enjoys the challenge of understanding students’ allergies, restrictions and preferences to create options that students can enjoy. She has learned that sometimes you need to try to prepare foods a few different ways before kids will like them and to give students options and input. She has also spent years building relationships with the students at the schools she has worked at, providing lunch as well as comfort and advice.

Zelaya recently ran into one of the students from her other school, Village East Elementary, and was happy to hear how the student was thriving. 

“She was so excited to see me, yelling ‘Hello’ as if her lungs would burst,” Zelaya said. “The student told me, ‘I remembered what you told me about having a bad day and how you should always make the best of that day.’ She told me that I was her favorite lunch lady and that I helped her get good grades. I laughed because she was the one who had to work hard for her grades. I just listened.”

Originally from Honduras, Zelaya grew up with a single mother and home-cooked meals. Food for her didn’t just mean a meal, but a way to connect with her family.

“We couldn’t afford to eat out growing up, and I learned how to cook with love and bring people together with a meal,” she said. “My kids are learning this, and one day they will be able to make delicious meals for their families.”

When schools closed this past school year due to the global outbreak of COVID-19, Zelaya volunteered to be part of the district’s emergency feeding program. She was motivated by her own experiences and by knowing that many of her kids didn’t have food at home.

“Some of our parents aren’t working right now, and I know how tough that is. If I can give them a little bit of sunshine and something for their tummy, I’ll be there,” she said. “No matter what time, what day, I’ll be helping out. My grandmother and my mom taught me that every kid deserves a meal.”

 

 Pork Ribs in Red Sauce

 

Ingredients

  • 4 lbs pork ribs
  • 1 tbsp garlic powder
  • 1 tbsp salt
  • ½ onion
  • 4 oz tomato sauce (1/2 can)
  • 3 tomatoes
  • 2 jalapenos

 

Directions

  1. Boil the ribs for one hour.
  2. Cut the onions in half, place one half with ribs in a large pot. Add 1 tbsp salt and 1 tbsp garlic powder, cover and boil for one hour at high temperature. Mix the tomatoes with the sauce and the second onion half with 1 cup of liquid from ribs. 
  3. When ribs have finished boiling, pour tomato mixture over ribs.
  4. Cover with lid and cook on low heat for 30 minutes.