Chef Ann

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Chef Ann Cooper is an internationally recognized author, chef, educator, public speaker, and advocate of healthy food for all children. In a nation where kids are born with shorter estimated life expectancies than their parents due to diet-related disease, Chef Ann has been a constant champion of school food reform as an important avenue through which to improve childhood nutrition.

In 2009, Chef Ann founded the Food Family Farming Foundation (now the Chef Ann Foundation), a nonprofit organization that is dedicated to helping schools take action so that every child has daily access to fresh, healthy food. CAF programs include Let’s Move Salad Bars to SchoolsProject Produce, Parent Advocacy Initiative, Healthy Breakfast for Kids, as well as The Lunch Box, an online resource that provides free step-by-step guides, tools, and recipes to help schools improve their food programs.

Also known as the “Renegade Lunch Lady,“ Chef Ann serves as Director of Food Services for Boulder Valley School District in Boulder, Colorado, and is Partner of Lunch Lessons, LLC, a consultancy for school districts going through large-scale food change. She also writes a monthly blog for U.S. News & World Report and performs regular Speaking Engagements throughout the country. Visit our Multimedia Content page to view some of Ann’s notable lectures, including her four TED Talks.

I envision a time, soon, when being a chef working to feed children fresh, delicious, and nourishing food will no longer be considered renegade.”
– Chef Ann Cooper

A graduate of the Culinary Institute of America, Ann has 40 years of experience as a chef, including 17 years in school food programs. Her books Bitter Harvest and Lunch Lessons: Changing the Way We Feed Our Children have made her a leading advocate for safe, sustainable food. To raise further awareness about the value of healthy food systems, Chef Ann has held several advisory positions:

Chef Ann has also been honored by the National Resources Defense Council, awarded an honorary doctorate from SUNY Cobleskill for her work on sustainable agriculture, and received IACP’s 2012 Humanitarian of the Year award.  Named one of the “Influential 20” by Food Service Director Magazine and one of the top 15 Crusaders for Health in the Food Industry by, Ann has also received the Women Chefs and Restaurateurs Community Service Award and a Special Inspirational Award from the Susan B. Komen Foundation. In 2016, she was named "One of the Top 50 Food Activists" by the Academy of Culinary Nutrition.

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Biography (Condensed Version):

Chef Ann Cooper is a celebrated author, chef, educator and enduring advocate for better food for all children. A graduate of the Culinary Institute of America, Ann has been a chef for more than 40 years, over 17 of those in school food programs. She currently serves as the Food Services Director for the Boulder Valley School District. Known as the “Renegade Lunch Lady”, Ann has been honored by The National Resources Defense Council, selected as a Kellogg Food and Society Policy Fellow, and awarded an honorary doctorate from SUNY Cobleskill for her work. In 2016, Ann was named “One of the Top 50 Food Activists” by the Academy of Culinary Nutrition. In 2009, Ann founded the nonprofit Chef Ann Foundation (CAF) to focus on solutions to the school food crisis. CAF provides tools, training, resources and funding to support schools transitioning to scratch-cooked meals made with whole, healthy food.

Speaking Engagements / Calendar

Although she is busy running the Chef Ann Foundation, working as Director of Food Services for Boulder Valley School District, and consulting for other school districts, Chef Ann makes it a priority to share her experiences and insights through speaking engagements. Connecting with audiences as close to home as TEDxBoulder and as far away as Qatar, Ann has inspired people throughout the world to change the way we feed our children. A sampling of her past lectures is available in our Multimedia Content section.


  • “A Woman’s Place Is in the Kitchen,” The Evolution of Women Chefs
    “A Woman’s Place Is in the Kitchen,” The Evolution of Women Chefs
    • Wiley,
    Buy on Amazon

    A Woman's Place is in the Kitchen is a collection of historical and contemporary research that provides a comprehensive look at women and their roles in the professional culinary arena. In the domestic setting, women have been the primary food providers to the world; yet until recently, women have been excluded from the upper echelons of professional kitchens. Here, Chef Ann discusses both current and traditional perspectives of women involved in the food service industry. She includes historical context such as the influences of sociological change resulting from the transfer of power from matriarchal to patriarchal emphasis and the effects of the implementation of the brigade system that was developed from all-male military institutions. The first book ever to be written exclusively about women chefs and restaurateurs, A Woman's Place is in the Kitchen provides an informative, insightful, and objective portrait of women working in the multi-faceted culinary field.

  • Bitter Harvest
    Bitter Harvest
    • Routledge,
    Buy on Amazon

    The history of food is not as straightforward as it may seem. Food isn't just food. It is ritual, tradition, and memory," begins Chef Ann‘s groundbreaking book on the relationship between food, politics, and health. Passionate, political, informed, and engaging, Bitter Harvest is filled with fascinating facts and anecdotes. Chef Ann offers a comprehensive analysis of  sustainability, arguing persuasively why we must begin to change everything from the way food is shipped to the basic components of our diets. Touching on virtually every aspect of the food culture, Bitter Harvest is a vibrant example of the emergence of the chef as a political voice to be reckoned with. A food manifesto for the new millennium, it is a must-read for anyone concerned with health, nutrition, and the future of our planet. 

  • In Mother’s Kitchen: Celebrated Women Chefs Share Beloved Family Recipes
    In Mother’s Kitchen: Celebrated Women Chefs Share Beloved Family Recipes
    • Rizzoli,
    Buy on Amazon

    Much more than just a cookbook, Chef Ann’s In Mother’s Kitchen is a testament to the many ways that a mother can shape a child’s life through cooking. Time spent side-by-side in the kitchen stirring the soup, rolling out a bit of pastry, preparing carefully chosen vegetables, arranging a platter, and of course, bringing finished dishes to the table to hungry and appreciative family provide a child with tangible lessons in nurturing. For the women who contributed to In Mother’s Kitchen, these vivid impressions motivated careers in kitchens of their own, influencing both how and why they cook for a living. In this heartwarming collection, more than fifty celebrated woman chefs and culinary professionals share cherished heirloom recipes along with the memories that made them so special. 

  • Lunch Lessons: Changing the Way We Feed Our Children
    Lunch Lessons: Changing the Way We Feed Our Children
    • Harper Collins,
    Buy on Amazon

    Known as the “Renegade Lunch Lady,“ Chef Ann has worked for nearly two decades to transform cafeterias into culinary classrooms. In Lunch Lessons, she and Lisa Holmes spell out how parents and school employees can help instill healthy habits in children. The two explain the basics of childhood nutrition and suggest dozens of tasty, kid-tested recipes for breakfast, lunch, and snacks. They also recommend how to eliminate potential hazards from the home, bring gardening and composting into daily life, and support businesses that provide local, organic food. Still, learning about nutrition and changing the way you run your home will not cure the plague of obesity or poor health for this generation of children. Only parental activism can spark widespread change. With inspirational examples and analysis, Lunch Lessons is more than just a recipe book—it gives readers the tools to transform the way children everywhere interact with food.

    Print many of the Home Recipes featured in this book.

Chef Ann Consulting

School districts across the country are working towards healthier school food. Lunch Lessons, LLC, co-owned by Chef Ann and her business partner, Chef Beth Collins, provides expertise and knowledge to school districts across the nation that are transitioning from ready-to-heat foods to scratch cooking. Lunch Lessons offers a variety of services to assist school districts and their community partners in realizing their vision for school food service, including: educational programming through speaking engagements; workshops that address a variety of needs from fiscal to culinary training; focused analysis of various aspects of existing programs; as well as full assessments which analyze all aspects of the food service department and provide recommendations to assist in strategic planning and goal setting.

Chefs Cooper and Collins have worked together for more than 14 years and are experienced in both public and private sector food systems; school district administration; culinary training; fiscal services; food service facilities and operations, and strategic planning. Both chefs have hands-on experience in district-wide food services transition, including the challenges that districts and community partners face as they decide to address large-scale system change. Their experience and understanding provide a realistic view of complex school district relationships and determine what goals and results are most realistic and cost-effective given the distinct conditions of each district.

So what does a Lunch Lessons assessment address? Here are some of the areas of focus:

  • Analysis of school sites operations
  • Fiscal analysis of food service department funding and spending
  • Procurement and commodity allocation
  • Inventory management
  • Menu Planning
  • Human resources – hiring, training, organizational structure
  • Food Service Department policies and standards
  • Food service warehouse and materials management operations
  • Marketing and community collaboration

Visit the Lunch Lessons website to learn more.


Meet Chef Ann Cooper

Chef Ann Cooper is an internationally recognized author, chef, educator, public speaker, and advocate of healthy food for kids.

Chef Ann’s Lunch Lessons Presentation [ENGLISH]

Watch the video in English below or in Spanish. You can also download the PowerPoint file in English or Spanish.

Chef Ann Cooper's current PowerPoint presentation in video format. English version.

Chef Ann on Facebook