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Fueling the Future of School Food in California

It’s an exciting time for school food and California is taking incredible strides to implement more scratch cooking in schools. Read on to learn how we are supporting programs such as Santa Clara Unified School District via Specialized Programming.

In addition to grants & programs (like Healthy School Food Pathway and Bulk Milk), Chef Ann Foundation (CAF) also works with school food programs in a consultative fashion via Specialized Programming. Through Specialized Programming, we support districts with key components of school food operations that are part of the larger systems change to increasing scratch cooking: procurement, labor, facilities, recipe and menu development, and other key focus areas.

These specialized programs are typically district-funded. We are excited to reflect on the work we have been able to do with several districts that received kitchen infrastructure upgrades and food service staff training through California’s Kitchen Infrastructure and Training (KIT) Funds. With this special funding, CAF was able to work with districts to address key issues and barriers they have identified to increase healthy, freshly prepared meals.

Through virtual and on-site technical assistance, CAF is able to provide direction on the best use of this incredible opportunity to support scratch cooking. District-specific plans ensure that districts are getting the most out of their funding and creating meaningful and sustainable change in their school food programs.

As part of a KIT-funded partnership, we hosted a professional development day at Santa Clara Unified School District located in Silicon Valley, California. Read on to learn about the training and how districts are paving the way for a scratch-cooked future.

Behind the Scenes of SCUSD

We joined Santa Clara Unified School District to provide interactive lessons, culinary demonstrations, and hands-on activities centered around the importance of healthy, scratch-cooked school food. The day started with a School Food Institute course, Ingredients for Healthier Kids, followed by CAF specialists sharing tips on how to prepare fresh produce and new recipes to serve. SCUSD staff then prepared a delicious lunch using school recipes from The Lunch Box: honey barbeque chicken, roasted delicata squash, and quinoa quesadillas! Lunch was followed by several presentations led by various CAF team members.

Behind the Scenes of SCUSD

We joined Santa Clara Unified School District to provide interactive lessons, culinary demonstrations, and hands-on activities centered around the importance of healthy, scratch-cooked school food. The day started with a School Food Institute course, Ingredients for Healthier Kids, followed by CAF specialists sharing tips on how to prepare fresh produce and new recipes to serve. SCUSD staff then prepared a delicious lunch using school recipes from The Lunch Box: honey barbeque chicken, roasted delicata squash, and quinoa quesadillas! Lunch was followed by several presentations led by various CAF team members.

We connected with Karen Luna, Food Service Director at SCUSD, to learn more about the amazing work happening in the district:

You have an incredible 11-acre farm in your district! Can you describe how having fresh produce has impacted your school food program?
The SCUSD farm allows Nutrition Services to plan what we will serve for our salad bars and menus. We incorporate fresh produce from the farm into our salad bars and we also utilize the tomatoes to make our own marinara sauce. We send the tomatoes to a local produce processor to be pureed and our chefs then make marinara.

In addition to your own farm, can you share about any other local partnerships and how they have benefited your school food program?
We have developed a partnership with CreamCo Meats and Richards Ranch for regeneratively grown beef products. We are currently using their hotdogs which are all beef and no added preservatives. This partnership was very helpful during the pandemic when beef was difficult to purchase.

How have KIT Funds enabled you to incorporate more scratch-cooked menu items into your program?
We have used KIT funds to begin building skills for our staff. This school year, there have been two different opportunities for staff to learn new culinary skills and learn about scratch cooking and plant based meals.

What was your staff most excited about with the CAF training and professional development day?
The staff loved the kitchen cooking assignments. Learning techniques and how to work together as a team is helping them grow in their positions.

Is there anything else you would like to share about the CAF professional development day that you think would benefit other districts?
Staff really enjoyed learning from experts. They felt very special that such an important group was coming to train them. The connection between the trainers and the Chef Ann website was important as well. They are using it as a resource for new ideas now that they have a connection.

What was your staff most excited about with the CAF training and professional development day?
The staff loved the kitchen cooking assignments. Learning techniques and how to work together as a team is helping them grow in their positions.

Is there anything else you would like to share about the CAF professional development day that you think would benefit other districts?
Staff really enjoyed learning from experts. They felt very special that such an important group was coming to train them. The connection between the trainers and the Chef Ann website was important as well. They are using it as a resource for new ideas now that they have a connection.

Your Own Specialized Program

Specialized programming presents a unique opportunity for a district or multiple districts to receive individualized and direct support for improving their meal programs. We are happy to work with districts to develop their own specialized trainings & professional development.

Learn more about our customizable offerings and contact us to start building your plan today!

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