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Free-Lunch Kid

We are so excited to introduce our newest CAF Board Member, David De La Rosa, and share his uplifting story. Read on to learn how David was once a free-lunch kid, what inspired him to get involved with CAF and his determination to positively impact the daily physical and mental well-being of millions of children across the country.

I was a free-lunch kid from the day I started kindergarten to the time I graduated high school. My father was a construction worker and my mom took care of her six boys (all free-lunch kids). You could say we didn’t have much money to buy healthier alternatives. What were the staples of my free lunch? Sloppy joes, corn dogs, pizzas, and sides of canned fruits and vegetables. As a kid, I didn’t and couldn’t complain. I was hungry and the meal was free.

Fast forward to 2020, when Covid hit, I had a flashback of my free-lunch days when my 7-year-old daughter brought home a free, school-provided lunch (With universal meals in CA, all school kids had access to this lunch). Ah, free lunch must have improved 30 years later I thought. But no, it hadn’t. The lunch included a corn dog one day. A frozen burrito another day. Some other processed entrées other days. While there were some fresh fruits and vegetables, most of the time my daughter put her lunch in the trash. I did not blame her. I just made her lunch from scratch in our kitchen. Like most parents, I was working from home, so scratch-cooking in my kitchen was possible.

Coincidentally, I was doing market research on food infrastructure, specifically commercial and ghost kitchens for work purposes, when one day I drove past a digital sign that read “Central Kitchen”. Eventually I found out it was a brand-new central kitchen built for a school district. I thought, wow, what a great use-case for a central kitchen. At that point, I became increasingly interested in school food infrastructure. Shortly after, I came across a TedTalk by Chef Ann Cooper, the then Food Services Director of the Boulder Valley School District (BVSD) and was inspired by the passion she had about feeding healthier meals to kids. She said it was possible to serve meals that weren’t just heat-and-serve but actually made from scratch. Or at least in my mind, as close to “home-cooked” as possible. This was also much more possible when school districts had access to central kitchens, where there was space for farm-fresh washrooms, commercial food prep equipment, and food packing capabilities. In fact, BVSD had recently opened their central kitchen several years ago under Chef Ann’s leadership.

Most of my friends were not surprised by the fact I set up a call with Chef Ann and Mara Fleishman several weeks before Chef Ann’s retirement. I wanted to meet one of the gurus of scratch cooking before she left for a far-off island in the Pacific. I also wanted to learn more about school food infrastructure. Given my real estate background, I wanted to better understand why there weren’t more of these central kitchens across the country. What were the barriers? Who were the stakeholders of a healthy school food initiative? What would it take to re-imagine school food? I had and still have so many questions. But here is what I do know: The Chef Ann Foundation (CAF) is the leading voice for scratch cooking across the country and has developed various programs to support its mission. Most recently, CAF and a coalition of California community colleges are partnering in the development of a pilot pre-apprenticeship program to launch in the Spring of 2022 that will support education and workforce development for healthy school food change. With Biden’s focus on infrastructure and Newsom’s commitment to regional and healthier community food, the time is now for a school food change. I am certain that CAF will play a critical role in that change.

Several weeks ago, the Chef Ann Foundation invited me to join the Board. I immediately told my 7-year old daughter that I was joining a group that may bring healthier food to her school. With her usual sass, she instructed me to make sure they had more salads in her school. I smiled and gave her a kiss on the cheek saying, “yes of course Diana.”

To Chef Ann, Mara, and the Board, I want to sincerely thank you for your work. I am excited about my term as a Board Member for CAF. As a former free-lunch kid, I look forward to positively impacting the daily physical and mental well-being of millions of kids across the country.


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