Get Schools Cooking application open!

Apply now for this 3-year intensive grant program to transition to scratch cooking

  • School Food Operations, CAF Programs, Grants
  • August 27, 2019
  • By: Allison Ildefonso
  • Comments

With rising rates of childhood obesity and recent nutrition rollbacks to the National School Lunch Program, the need for a positive shift in school food and children’s health is more important than ever. Through our largest grant program, Get Schools Cooking, the Chef Ann Foundation (CAF), in partnership with Whole Kids Foundation, is dedicated to supporting healthier school food by guiding districts through the process of implementing a scratch-cook operation. 

Why Scratch Cooking?

Scratch cooking—the practice of cooking with basic, whole ingredients like fresh fruits and vegetables—is a powerful tool for schools to move back to basics and provide children with nutrient-dense meals. With 30 million children eating school lunch every day, scratch cooking is an important movement in ensuring today’s youth get the nourishment they need and deserve.

A recent study from the National Institutes of Health found ultra-processed foods (with ingredients like high-fructose corn syrup and hydrogenated oils) cause people to eat more calories and gain more weight than minimally processed or whole foods. In addition, a 2014 study published in the Journal of American Nutrition and Dietetics examined the impacts of switching to scratch-cook operations and found that, although labor costs rise, they are offset by lower food costs. Therefore, schools have the opportunity to positively influence the health of our nation’s children and transform their food programs—but they need the support to do so. 

Grant Details

After three years of success supporting 15 school districts, Get Schools Cooking (GSC) applications opened again on August 19th to support districts transitioning to scratch cooking. Applications will remain open through October 28th, 2019. 

“This is our most comprehensive grant, an incredible opportunity for districts to work with school food experts to transition to scratch cooking,” said Mara Fleishman, CEO of the Chef Ann Foundation. “If your district is serious about wanting to move towards scratch cooking, this grant provides the hands-on support and partnership you need.”

The GSC program kicks off with a workshop in Boulder, CO, followed by an on-site operational assessment; strategic planning; a $35,000 systems grant to cover items such as equipment, staff training, and data solutions; and continued technical support to implement the strategic plan. The grant is valued at up to $267,000 per district. 

School food experts visit and assess each school district and their sites to provide customized recommendations and strategic plans across five key areas of school food operations: food, finance, facilities, human resources, and marketing. Each goal within these key areas supports districts operating a scratch-cook meal program. 

“What our kids eat at school matters! We understand that moving from processed food to scratch cooking takes a deep commitment,” said Kim Herrington, Programs and Finance Director of Whole Kids Foundation, “and making that change has enormous benefits for students’ health, their achievement, and the environment.”

For the 2019 cohort, CAF will continue its partnership with the Gretchen Swanson Center for Nutrition to evaluate each district's progress in meeting their goals and addressing the recommendations from their assessment. 

Economic Benefits & Local Procurement

Recognizing the economic benefits to scratch cooking, more states are proposing legislation that rewards schools for local food purchases, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is on board. The agency recently announced more than $9 million in USDA Farm to School Program grants “that will increase the amount of healthy, local foods served in schools and create economic opportunities for nearby farmers.”

While policies such as this are moving in the right direction, they overlook the fact that schools need to scratch-cook to take advantage of the local procurement incentives. Schools running heat-and-serve operations with frozen and processed food have limited opportunities to purchase from local farm producers.

Not only does scratch cooking present an economic benefit to the local economy, it offers advantages for school meal programs as well. According to a 2016 report from the Pew Charitable Trusts, school food directors report steady or increased participation in school lunch programs and stable or rising revenue after implementing more scratch cooking. 

With the help of GSC, districts can get on track to transition to scratch-cook operations to reap the benefits: healthier students with full bellies who are ready to learn, a stronger local economy, and a future of healthy eaters.

“I can’t explain how informative, beneficial, and invigorating this whole experience has been,” says Amber Watson, Nutrition Services Director for Marysville Joint Unified, a 2018 cohort district. “It’s really made me a better director and leader and I can see my staff are happy with the changes I’ve put into place thus far.”

To learn more about the program, visit the Get Schools Cooking webpage and register for an informational webinar on September 12 with CAF Director of Programs Emily Gallivan, Chef Beth Collins, and Amber Watson. They’ll discuss program components, the assessment process, and highlight the changes one district has made as a result of the program.

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