The Importance of Real School Food

And what you can do for the Real School Food Movement

  • Chef Ann News
  • October 19, 2016
  • By: Ann Cooper
  • Comments

This school year marks my eighth as the Food Service Director of Boulder Valley School District (BVSD) and my seventeenth working in school food reform.  During that time I have worked in two school districts with almost seventy schools combined. I’ve helped to serve over 16 million scratch cooked healthy school meals and am adding 13,000 more meals per day to that count as I continue to lead the Food Service Department at BVSD.  When I first took over operations at these districts, the meals were highly processed. Now, not only are they scratch cooked, but they’re also hormone and antibiotic free, and free of dyes, high fructose corn syrup, and added trans fats.  More than that, they’re pesticide and chemical free whenever possible.  We put salad bars in all of these schools and introduced marketing and education programs like tasting events, school gardens and Iron Chef competitions, to increase participation and engage the kids with healthy eating. 

During my school food career, I also founded the Chef Ann Foundation (CAF), which has reached over 7,000 schools and more than 2.6 million students with healthy school food programming, including Let’s Move Salad Bars to Schools, a grant program that has donated almost 5,000 salad bars to school cafeterias since 2010. I don’t write all of this to tout my accomplishments, but to highlight the school food professionals all over the country who are working tirelessly to put healthy food on our children’s lunch trays. From Minneapolis to Detroit, from Sonoma to San Diego, from Austin to Cleveland and all points in between, school food is getting healthier.  

And schools are doing this despite the fact that Congress has now delayed reauthorization of the Child Nutrition Act (which governs the National School Lunch Program) by over a year. Just think about that for a moment – food service professionals are working day in and day out to make better food for our nation’s children, and our ineffectual elected officials can’t even be bothered to pass legislation that would guarantee funding for school lunches, help ensure that school kids have access to healthy food and that no child goes hungry. But I digress... I blame this crazy election year and my sleepless nights thinking about what a Trump presidency would mean for the health our of nation’s children.

Back to the point – for over 7 years CAF has been providing schools grant programs and online resources to help them serve healthier food, but our work goes beyond that. We also strive to bring awareness to the issues that affect school food. We aim to educate the public on why healthy school food is so important and highlight the school districts across the country that are working towards healthy change.

There’s a lot about school food that you might not be aware of. For instance, how many of you know that most schools have less than $1.25 for to spend on the food for a school lunch, or that, thanks to the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, fruits and vegetables must be offered with every lunch?  How many of you know that school food service workers make some of the lowest wages in most school districts and yet often have some of the most physically demanding jobs? Or that  school food service team members often know the name of every single child in the school?

These stories need to be shared. We need pay homage to all the hardworking food service women and men in schools across the country. And we must also bring attention to the obstacles they face and the support they need to continue pushing the dial on school food reform. That’s why CAF has launched its second annual #RealSchoolFood social media awareness campaign, to shine a light on the fact that we must transition all of our nation’s schools away from highly processed, heat-and-serve meals to scratch cooking with fresh ingredients. Because when we make sure that our children’s meals are cooked with real food, instead of food additives and chemicals, we set them up for a lifetime of healthy eating habits that help them to grow, thrive, and achieve.

If you believe in the real school food movement, get involved in the campaign. Here’s what we’re asking people to do:

  1. Photograph yourself or your kids holding a “#realschoolfood” sign.
  2. Post the photo to Facebook, Twitter and Instagram (privacy settings set to public) with this caption: 30 million kids eat school lunch every day. It's time we served them #realschoolfood. Join the campaign now: realschoolfood.org (Or, visit the campaign page for other suggestions).

For every person who posts using “#realschoolfood” in October, our campaign sponsors, Made in Nature, Mamma Chia, Guckenheimer, Elevations and Quinn Snacks will donate $1 towards our healthy school food programming for kids across the country. Last year the campaign drew over 23 million impressions, attracting chefs, celebrities, good food advocates and parents from all over the country to share the real school food message. This year we’re hoping for over 30 million.  So stand with us in the fight for real school food and join the campaign today. 

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