Feeding Equity: Fresh School Food For All
How School Food Can Help Lay An Equitable Foundation for Today’s Youth
December 02, 2020 | By
Every year at the Chef Ann Foundation, we reflect on the last 12 months’ of work and highlight the most impactful and needed change. 2020 has been full of harrowing events and continual crises, and we’ve seen time and time again that school food matters, especially in underserved communities and populations. This year, we’re focused on Feeding Equity: Fresh School Food For All. But what does this really mean, for our organization and for kids?
Why Fresh Food
More than ever before, we are seeing the need for hunger relief across the country—particularly in areas with rising unemployment rates spearheaded by the COVID-19 pandemic. For organizations and individuals in school food, hunger issues have always been top of mind. This year’s national health crisis has made it even more clear that school food is not just a “nice-to-have”— it is essential.
The issue here is that a lot of school food is processed food. And we cannot just fill bellies to fix the hunger issue in America. We need to fill them with healthy, nutritious, nourishing food. Food that will help children thrive in every aspect of their daily lives..
Research shows there are various benefits to cooking school meals from scratch using fresh, whole ingredients rather than processed. Not only do childhood obesity rates decrease among students with access to healthy school food, but their measurable academic performance improves as well. A lesser-known advantage to scratch cooking is that it is a financially sustainable food service model for districts; since they can set their own recipes, scratch-cook programs have more control over the cost of their ingredients than if they were to purchase pre-processed items from a manufacturer. Additionally, the ability to purchase whole ingredients locally also contributes to the local food economy and a more environmentally sustainable way of preparing food in schools.
Equity in scratch cooking
Scratch cooking is also a key part of the solution to food inequity experienced by many Black and Hispanic communities in the United States. According to a 2019 report by UConn’s Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity, food-related companies target Black and Hispanic youth at significantly higher rates than their white peers with advertisements for fast food, candy, sugary drinks, and snacks––all of which are significant contributors to poor diets and diet-related diseases.
As the second largest food relief program in the country, the National School Lunch Program (NSLP) provides a unique opportunity for equal access to healthy, scratch-cooked meals that students of all races and backgrounds need to thrive and meet their full potential. Providing more scratch-cooked school meals could reduce the rate at which students consume ultra-processed foods.
We need to look past short-term solutions. Huger relief in our country has traditionally been approached from a tactical support perspective. As we look at the intersection of hunger relief and equality, we need to expand our approach to support positive long-term outcomes and ensure programs (like school food) provide the springboard for change. When we scratch cook in schools (instead of serving low-quality processed food), we are changing habits, palates, expectations, and health and achievement outcomes.
This is where the Chef Ann Foundation comes in. We help school districts to assess their current operation, then use our core programs to make scratch-cooked school meals a reality, step-by-step, one district at a time. Through our programs, including The Lunch Box, Salad Bars to Schools, School Food Institute, and Get Schools Cooking, we put the power back in the hands of school food professionals to improve the quality of the food they are serving.
While we have to support current relief efforts, we must not give up on making healthy food more equitable for everyone—and it starts with our youth.