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Announcing School Food Institute

A Fresh Approach to Education

We serve over 30 million kids each day at school in cafeterias across the country. And while school food has made great strides in becoming healthier since the Healthy, Hunger Free Kids Act of 2010, there is still a heavy reliance on processed foods in school lunches. The food we eat matters, especially for children who need the fuel from good food to grow and learn.

One in three school aged children suffers from overweight and obesity, which puts kids at higher risk of a host of other health issues – from issues like high blood pressure, heart disease and asthma to depression and low self-esteem. And today, diabetes is one of the most chronic illnesses facing kids under 20. These are staggering statistics. And these diseases are diet-related. We know that something must change.

School food can be a major player in the battle against diet-related disease among kids. Over the course of a year, we serve more than 5 billion school lunches through the National School Lunch Program. If every one of those lunches was made from whole, fresh, healthy ingredients, imagine the impact on our kids’ diets, and ultimately, their health and wellbeing. But the reality is that changing school food is changing a system. School food has relied on processed foods for decades, largely due to financial and operational constraints that leave school kitchens without the ability to cook real food in schools. Challenges with kitchen equipment have been pervasive since the early 1980’s, when federal funding for kitchen equipment and facilities was first cut from school meal programs. And while federal equipment funding resurfaced in 2009, still today, less than half of school meal programs have adequate budgets for equipment, which pushes schools toward processed foods that don’t require specialized kitchen equipment or skilled labor to prepare. We can’t expect schools to make this change overnight.

That’s why the Chef Ann Foundation is launching School Food Institute (SFI). This video-based online educational series leverages Chef Ann Cooper’s extensive expertise in leading school food programs through a transition to serving whole, fresh, healthy foods to kids every day. Course topics cover everything necessary to make sustainable change to school food operations – recipes and menus, procurement, marketing and lunchroom education, finance, human resources, and even a course on strategic planning for making positive change. But what really makes the School Food Institute unique is the direct access to Chef Ann Cooper who, as the Director of Food Services for Boulder Valley School District in Colorado, knows firsthand what it means to transform school food programs.

Each course is taught through a lens of transitioning your school food operation to a scratch-cook model -- where processed chicken nuggets and tater tots are replaced by roasted chicken and potatoes cooked from fresh, whole ingredients. Throughout the course series, Chef Ann teaches how to work within regulatory and financial constraints to make scratch-cooking in schools a reality. Want to move away from serving frozen pizza and start making it from scratch? Chef Ann will lead you through a realistic transition plan to procure your ingredients and train your staff to make that pizza by hand. Want to know how to start shifting to antibiotic and hormone free beef without breaking the food budget? Chef Ann will tell you how you can prioritize ingredients and serve high quality food without affecting the bottom line.

In Chef Ann’s virtual classroom, school food service professionals learn the ins and outs of how to make real, sustainable change in school food programs. But School Food Institute is not just for school food service professionals. The coursework equips parents, administrators, and school nutrition advocates with practical knowledge about school food history, regulations, policy, and funding that will enable them to be informed advocates for healthier food in schools across the nation.

School Food Institute is much more than merely a series of videos. Chef Ann’s lectures come to life for participants with real-world assignments and learning activities that help them stretch their imaginations about school food operations and get feedback from their instructor and her teaching assistant. And discussion questions allow participants to learn from each other by sharing successes and challenges in school food change.

Participants can enroll in all eight courses in the series, or just in courses on the operational areas where they need professional development. The School Food Institute recognizes those who are truly invested through its certificate program. School Food Institute certificates are available at three levels – gold (complete the full series), silver (complete School Food 101 and four more courses of your choice), and bronze (complete School Food 101 and two more courses of your choice).

This is the only national certificate which recognizes the transition to scratch-cook operations in schools. A School Food Institute certificate gives professionals a competitive edge in the school food service industry and equips them with the knowledge, skills, and strategic vision to operate top-notch school meal programs and to make real change to support the health of our children.

Join the movement to make fresh, healthy food available to every child. Enroll in a School Food Institute course or certificate program today, and learn how you can start making changes to support healthier food in schools. Every child deserves real food that gives them fuel to thrive in school – and we as food service professionals and child nutrition advocates have a responsibility to make it happen.


Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Obesity

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Diabetes

American Heart Association

School Nutrition Association

The Pew Charitable Trusts


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