Many of us remember school meals growing up, and while not all are bad, an overwhelming majority of them unfortunately are.
So what happened?
Because schools work within tight budgets to feed students, many of them believe they have no choice other than to adopt a “heat and serve” mentality that relies heavily on canned and processed ingredients. And though government programs acknowledge the need for healthier options, current regulations focus more on the nutritional content of the food versus, with less emphasis on what the kids are actually eating. Which still means lots of cans are being opened every day.
Government regulations can only take us so far—which is why one chef has made it her mission to empower the schools themselves.
Chef Ann Cooper | Author, Chef, Educator & Advocate for Better Food for All Children
For Chef Ann Cooper, the need for a healthier food system was clear. Leveraging her extensive culinary background, Chef Ann created a sustainable, scalable model for K-12 schools within Berkeley, California. Through her instruction, schools were able to transition from programs utilizing processed ingredients to a cook-from-scratch operation where some food is sourced locally. The best part? These nutritious meals meet USDA nutritional requirements and cost no more than $1.25 a plate.
Recognizing Chef Ann’s work in the Berkeley school system, motivated parents in Boulder, CO wanted to see the same change happen within their district. After reaching out to Chef Ann to discuss changes within their community, Chef Ann soon moved on to become the Food Services Director for the Boulder Valley School District (BVSD). Since then, lunch meals around Boulder have looked distinctively different, evolving from staples like chicken nuggets and taquitos, to healthier options like roasted chicken with brown rice. One of those involved parents, Mara Fleishman, would go on to serve on the newly-created foundation’s board of directors before transitioning to Executive Director and finally, Chief Executive Officer.
Changing the Way We Feed Our Kids
Founded in 2009, the Chef Ann Foundation is focused on providing schools with the tools, training, resources and funding that enables them to redefine the traditional lunchroom environment. By helping schools move away from a “heat and serve” mentality, the foundation works to show schools how attainable (and affordable) a from-scratch operation can be.
At this point you might be thinking, “If you don’t like what the school is serving, just bring something from home!”
But consider this.
Roughly 22 million children in the school system come from disadvantaged households, with an estimated 8% of households with children under the age of 18 facing food insecurity. For many children who participate in the free or reduced-price lunch program, their school lunch might be the only full meal they have within a day, which means that access to a nutritious meal at school is more important than ever. When bringing a healthy meal from home isn’t an option, the foundation works to level the playing field because the Foundation believes every child should have access to healthy food every day.
Showing Schools How to Fish
“Give a Man a Fish, and You Feed Him for a Day. Teach a Man To Fish, and You Feed Him for a Lifetime.”
The Chef Ann Foundation excels in their diverse selection of programs that empower schools to take charge of food reform within their own communities. Impacting over 2,800 schools across 50 states, the foundation features everything from recipes analyzed to meet USDA meal requirements, to developing toolkits to educate and organize school communities around healthy school food. Current programs at the foundation include:
The Lunch Box
The Lunch Box is a free, online portal that helps schools and administrators with recipes, staffing, equipment lists and more to help make a ‘from-scratch’ cooking transition.
Salad Bars to Schools
Within the Salad Bars to Schools grant program, the foundation aids schools in their commitment to serving fresh, nutritious foods by integrating full salad bars into daily meal programs—to this day more than 5,000 salad bars have been installed in schools across the country!
This lunchtime learning grant program both increases accessibility of fresh fruits and vegetables while simultaneously educating children on healthy eating through fun, lunchroom learning activities.
School Food Support Initiative
Selected districts will receive additional support and instruction through an intensive workshop led by Chef Ann Cooper. Additionally, participants will have access to a food service program Assistance Grant to help support improvements like equipment purchases, software investments and more.
Parent Advocacy Initiative
The Parent Advocacy Initiative targets parents by giving them the tools and resources necessary to support grassroots efforts and kick start changes within their own school communities.
School Food Institute
A newly-designed program for foodservice professionals and childhood nutrition advocates, the School Food Institute provides the in-depth training and operational skills required to make the vision of fresh, healthy school food a reality.
The tools and foundation are set—the next step: awareness. Events like the school “Iron Chef” competitions and the Real School Food Challenge requires participants to create delicious, healthy recipes that meet USDA guidelines while meeting the same $1.25 per meal budget that schools have. Engaging communities beyond the schools is key to driving change for children today.
Lack confidence in your culinary abilities but want to help? Easy way to spread awareness of the Chef Ann Foundation is to get social!
With the #RealSchoolFood program, you can help raise money and spread awareness with one click. Thanks to generous sponsors (like Tundra Restaurant Supply), for every person who participates on social media, $1 will be donated to healthy school food programs across the country!
It’s easy as 1 – 2 – 3.
Make a Sign that says #RealSchoolFood and snap a selfie holding the sign
Post the photo to your social media timelines with the #realschoolfood hashtag and one of the below captions.
** If posting to Facebook, make sure you make the post public so that they can track your donation and count it towards a matched donation. **
Tag the Chef Ann Foundation in your post!
Facebook: @Chef Ann Foundation
The Chef Ann Foundation will continue to support school districts nationwide through grant programs and additional program resources. For more about the Chef Ann Foundation, visit http://www.chefannfoundation.org/.
Want to support the Chef Ann Foundation even more? Donate directly at Tundra Restaurant Supply.