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Get Schools Cooking: A Glimpse of Four Districts in Action

Join us in celebrating four districts’ dedication to bettering their school food programs, learn about their accomplishments, and hear what’s on the menu for future change!
 

Preparing fresh, healthy, scratch-cooked school food is something to be proud of but certainly requires time, energy, and dedication. Our 2020-2023 Get Schools Cooking (Cohort 4) districts have worked tremendously hard throughout our partnership thus far and continue to make strides toward healthier school meals every day. 

Get Schools Cooking is one of the Chef Ann Foundation’s flagship programs. Public K-12 schools across the United States can apply for an intensive three-year program that includes a thorough assessment, strategic planning, and operational knowledge to transition from a heat-and-serve model to scratch cooking. The program includes system improvement grants and focuses on what we consider the five key areas of school food operations: food, finance, facilities, human resources, and marketing. Since Get Schools Cooking began, a total of 20 districts have completed the program. 

Thanks to the Whole Kids Foundation and Beacon, in 2019, we had funding to partner with four districts to start this multi-year journey towards healthier, scratch-cooked meals. We choose districts based on their readiness and ability to participate in the program. The 2020-2023 cohort includes:

  • Franklin Special School District in Franklin, Tennessee 
  • South Madison Community School Corporation in Pendleton, Indiana
  • Wisconsin Rapids Public Schools in Wisconsin Rapids, Wisconsin
  • Manhattan Ogden Public Schools in Manhattan, Kansas

These districts not only faced the typical challenges of moving to a scratch-cook operation but also the many obstacles that came with the world shutting down in 2020 due to a global pandemic. From distribution and supply chain challenges to staffing shortages and navigating the constant policy and rule changes, these school food champions have persevered to transform their programs and continue to do so beyond the Get Schools Cooking program. 

Learn about some of their accomplishments and what’s on the menu for future change. 


Franklin Special School District

Franklin Special School District is located in Tennessee, just south of Nashville, and has a district enrollment of 3,646 students, eight buildings, and a lunch Average Daily Participation (ADP) of 2,044 students.

From the very beginning, Franklin staff were eager to learn and participated in two professional development days specific to their program’s needs. The days were filled with discussions on the “why” behind scratch cooking and hands-on cooking demonstrations and equipment training. 

Franklin Special School District

Franklin Special School District is located in Tennessee, just south of Nashville, and has a district enrollment of 3,646 students, eight buildings, and a lunch Average Daily Participation (ADP) of 2,044 students.

From the very beginning, Franklin staff were eager to learn and participated in two professional development days specific to their program’s needs. The days were filled with discussions on the “why” behind scratch cooking and hands-on cooking demonstrations and equipment training. 

As part of the Get Schools Cooking program, districts are also allowed to apply for a one-time Systems Assistance Grant to support the needs and goals of their program. Franklin utilized their grant to order new uniforms for their staff. Consistent uniforms showcase professionalism and encourage respect for school food service professionals. The Franklin food service team wear their branded shirts with pride and radiate respectability through their program. That sense of pride has also carried into the food on their trays. The district has incorporated new scratch-cook recipes into their menu cycles and is continuing to do so in the year to come! 


South Madison Community School Corporation

South Madison Community School Corporation is located in Indiana, northeast of Indianapolis, and has a district enrollment of 4,409 students, six buildings, and a lunch Average Daily Participation (ADP) of 2,613 students.

At the start of the program, Chef Ann Foundation team members spent two days onsite conducting hands-on training with South Madison staff. Training included safely working with raw proteins, equipment guidance, and a “Starting From Scratch” presentation that covered why scratch cooking is so important for student health, academics, the community, and the environment.  

South Madison Community School Corporation

South Madison Community School Corporation is located in Indiana, northeast of Indianapolis, and has a district enrollment of 4,409 students, six buildings, and a lunch Average Daily Participation (ADP) of 2,613 students.

At the start of the program, Chef Ann Foundation team members spent two days onsite conducting hands-on training with South Madison staff. Training included safely working with raw proteins, equipment guidance, and a “Starting From Scratch” presentation that covered why scratch cooking is so important for student health, academics, the community, and the environment.  

Transitioning from processed proteins to fresh/raw proteins is a tremendous step towards scratch cooking and a major accomplishment for South Madison’s school food program! Raw proteins are 100% meat, without fillers, and are an ounce-to-ounce equivalent. This is an example of moving from processed products to using whole ingredients.   

Aside from the food itself, Food Service Director, Amanda Worrick, had a goal to transition to reusables at all their kitchen sites. They used part of their Systems Assistance Grant money to purchase reusable trays and plates for all six buildings. They also purchased coolers to ensure their food was stored at safe temperatures.

Transitioning from processed proteins to fresh/raw proteins is a tremendous step towards scratch cooking and a major accomplishment for South Madison’s school food program! Raw proteins are 100% meat, without fillers, and are an ounce-to-ounce equivalent. This is an example of moving from processed products to using whole ingredients.   

Aside from the food itself, Food Service Director, Amanda Worrick, had a goal to transition to reusables at all their kitchen sites. They used part of their Systems Assistance Grant money to purchase reusable trays and plates for all six buildings. They also purchased coolers to ensure their food was stored at safe temperatures.

Another major stride was reducing South Madison’s menu size to ensure that they were serving better quality food and student-inspired meals. Decreasing the amount of menu items allowed them to offer at least one scratch-made item a day and also helped with overall food costs, inventory, and labor. Labor that was previously used to heat multiple pre-packaged items can now be put towards more scratch cooking instead. In place of pre-packaged cheese and noodles, the district utilizes the scratch-made Macaroni and Cheese recipe from The Lunch Box, our online toolkit that provides free step-by-step guides, tools, recipes and other resources to help schools improve their meal programs and convert to scratch-cooking.

In the 2024-2025 school year, South Madison plans to facilitate tastings and student surveys. These lunchroom activities will encourage kids to try some of the new scratch-cooked menu items and allow the food program to gather feedback for future improvements! 


Manhattan Ogden Unified School District

Manhattan Ogden Unified School District is located in northwest Kansas and has a district enrollment of 6,753 students, 15 buildings, and a Lunch Average Daily Participation (ADP) of 3,573 students.

Manhattan Ogden Unified School District (USD 383) operates its food program out of a central kitchen, which provides a major opportunity for scratch cooking. These sites permit more complex recipes, consistent production across the district, as well as increased food safety.

Manhattan Ogden Unified School District

Manhattan Ogden Unified School District is located in northwest Kansas and has a district enrollment of 6,753 students, 15 buildings, and a Lunch Average Daily Participation (ADP) of 3,573 students.

Manhattan Ogden Unified School District (USD 383) operates its food program out of a central kitchen, which provides a major opportunity for scratch cooking. These sites permit more complex recipes, consistent production across the district, as well as increased food safety.

Their central kitchen currently produces two scratch meals per week, and they hope to do more in the 2024-2025 school year! They hired an additional cook, bringing their central kitchen team to three, which has enabled them to do more scratch cooking. Impressive cooking methods that the district utilizes include blast-chilling, bagging, tagging, and freezing sauces and meats ahead of time in which the kitchen then sends to respective school sites on the morning of use. This is a major accomplishment in production, ensuring food is fresh and ready to go once it arrives at school sites! 

Throughout the Get Schools Cooking program, Manhattan Ogden’s central kitchen has made monumental strides in making more scratch-made menu items, especially with animal proteins. Some of their menu items include pulled pork for sandwiches and tacos, barbacoa beef, taco ground beef, local Wagyu beef burgers, and teriyaki chicken

To improve the distribution for these delicious scratch-made menu items, the district utilized their System Assistance Grant to purchase Cambro insulated carts. The transition to insulated carts enables the district to move food to sites safely by keeping it at precise temperatures in non-refrigerated trucks. This makes deliveries easier and more efficient for warehouse staff. 

Throughout the Get Schools Cooking program, Manhattan Ogden’s central kitchen has made monumental strides in making more scratch-made menu items, especially with animal proteins. Some of their menu items include pulled pork for sandwiches and tacos, barbacoa beef, taco ground beef, local Wagyu beef burgers, and teriyaki chicken

To improve the distribution for these delicious scratch-made menu items, the district utilized their System Assistance Grant to purchase Cambro insulated carts. The transition to insulated carts enables the district to move food to sites safely by keeping it at precise temperatures in non-refrigerated trucks. This makes deliveries easier and more efficient for warehouse staff. 

This is only the beginning for Manhattan Odgen’s school food program. Food Service Director, Stephanie Smith, plans to pilot bulk milk at one school and once successfully implemented, will launch bulk milk at the rest of their sites. The central kitchen will continue building its mighty team and, once fully staffed, have as many scratch-made menu items as possible. Last but certainly not least is strides in sustainability: this district plans to implement fully reusable packaging. They have done this at all school sites except their high school but are on their way to transition to reusable there as well. 


Wisconsin Rapids Public Schools

Wisconsin Rapids Public Schools is located in central Wisconsin and has a district enrollment of 4,838 students, 13 buildings, and a Lunch Average Daily Participation (ADP) of 2,998 students.

Wisconsin Rapids  is serving more fresh fruits and vegetables after their time in the Get Schools Cooking program thanks to their new salad bars! Implementing salad bars into cafeterias is often referred to as the “gateway” to scratch cooking because it eliminates the need for hot vegetables (which are often processed) and exposes students to fresher, healthier choices. 

Wisconsin Rapids Public Schools

Wisconsin Rapids Public Schools is located in central Wisconsin and has a district enrollment of 4,838 students, 13 buildings, and a Lunch Average Daily Participation (ADP) of 2,998 students.

Wisconsin Rapids  is serving more fresh fruits and vegetables after their time in the Get Schools Cooking program thanks to their new salad bars! Implementing salad bars into cafeterias is often referred to as the “gateway” to scratch cooking because it eliminates the need for hot vegetables (which are often processed) and exposes students to fresher, healthier choices. 

In addition to salad bars, the district was also able to purchase shiny new equipment with their Systems Assistance Grant funds including bulk milk machines and Robot Coupes ( commercial food processors). Using equipment like a Robot Coupe is more labor-efficient for staff in preparing fresh fruits and vegetables for the salad bar. It also enables the district to order and process whole produce (as opposed to precut or frozen) which lasts longer and is often less expensive. 

Wisconsin Rapids is currently working to transition their high school to a larger production site. This will help with overall inventory management, labor costs, and consistency in their food quality — ensuring all kids have the same delicious meals on their tray! 


Progress and Partnerships to Come

We are so proud of the progress these districts have made thus far and although the Get Schools Cooking program is coming to a close for this 2019 cohort, we’ll continue as partners in the school food movement. We look forward to seeing what’s on the menu for these districts in the years to come and are grateful for their important work. 

Get Schools Cooking is open to school districts across the country thanks to generous support from our partners, including Whole Kids Foundation, Beacon, and the Rachael Ray Foundation. Your district could be next! 

The next round of applications will open on August 1, 2024. To be the first to know, sign up for exclusive program news and alerts

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