South Charlotte

She started a food revolution

In previous years, "slice & scoop" at Cotswold Elementary School at 300 Greenwich Road was a quarterly get-together for parents and PTA members.

It's an event where parents stay informed on the happenings of the school and the PTA, a chance for them to ask questions and get involved throughout the school year.

However, for Penny Dietz, 39, and several other parents and PTA members, the atmosphere of the slice & scoop nights was dreary, attendance was low and the food and drink options were unhealthy reminders of how families are rushed through their evenings with busy lifestyles and fast-food meals.

Dietz approached the PTA president last year with her vision of a food revolution for the school.

Starting out on a smaller level, she was offered the task of revamping the slice & scoop meetings, putting a healthy, more eco-friendly spin on them yet keeping the price affordable with the hopes of increasing attendance.

Dietz turned slice & scoop into "Meet & Eat" - "A grassroots step in the right direction by getting the families involved and using Meet & Eat as a test on whether or not this is appealing to our community," said Dietz.

As a magnet school with 40 percent of its 750-student enrollment participating in the free or reduced lunch program, more community involvement would be ideal.

With the new PTA Meet & Eat coordinator at the helm, the first Cotswold Elementary event in September had record attendance, with healthy local food catered by Table, pitchers of water instead of plastic bottles, a dessert choice of fresh fruit, and Caribou coffee, teas and drinks.

The events in years past have ended up costing the PTA money, but Dietz held this first event of the 2011 school year as a break-even night.

Eco-friendly living and an all-natural lifestyle are no strangers to the Dietz home.

"I've always been health-conscious-minded since growing up in a small town," she said.

Having a child with respiratory challenges, Dietz and her husband, Jeff, 38, began looking further into changing every chemical-based aspect of their lives to more eco-friendly, all-natural products, creating a healthier environment for their two boys, Watson, 6, and Miller, 8.

"We went from a family who was at the pediatrician's office every other week to the family that went only once a year for well visits," she said.

At that point, Dietz decided to create her own green business, in Oct. 2007; "green i am" helps families looking to start more eco-conscious lifestyles and provides knowledge of natural products.

"It's important for my family that I to do these sort of things, but it (also is) important for the rest of the Cotswold families," she said.

Dietz says she has received several emails from parents thanking her for changing these meetings for the better.

Dietz sent out a survey to parents attending the event to get feedback on more food and beverage options. "The response has been powerful and positive," she said. "In my ideal world, I would love for this to stem into making permanent changes in our cafeteria," she said.

The next event is in December, in anticipation of the holiday performances at the school, and Dietz already has begun planning for the second. "Well, my intent is to make some short-term changes; it's also to plant long-term seeds," she said.