Introducing Brandy Dreibelbis, CAF's new Director of School Food Operations!
Check out this Q&A to learn how our new school food expert is helping guide districts toward fresh, healthier food for kids
September 29, 2020 | By
The Chef Ann Foundation (CAF) is so excited to welcome Brandy Dreibelbis to the team! Brandy recently joined our organization as the Director of School Food Operations. In this role, she oversees the school food operational elements of our programs and is an expert resource for our partner districts.
We chatted with Brandy about her experience as a school chef and food services director, her advice for districts looking to start scratch cooking, and what she’s looking forward to with CAF.
What drew you to the world of school food, and what inspired you to stay?
I was working as the executive chef at the Pearl Street Whole Foods Market in Boulder, Colorado, getting ready to undertake this huge fundraising campaign to bring over a chef from Berkeley (Chef Ann Cooper) to create the School Food Project for Boulder Valley School District (BVSD). It was really enticing for me to be part of that model project and to work with a famous chef, Chef Ann!
Once I started working with BVSD, I realized the impact that I could have working in school food. To me, you have the greatest impact because there are millions of kids that rely on the National School Lunch Program (NSLP) daily. It’s a social justice issue, because for many of these kids it’s the only access they have to a hot meal or fresh fruits and vegetables.
What’s your favorite part about school food service? How do you feel like you are making a difference?
My favorite part about school food service is when I walk into a school cafeteria and see the kids having a good time, eating the food that we’ve served them that day, and getting excited about it. In return, my staff would also get excited. That really made me feel good.
With children, you have the opportunity to make such a big impact. If you can change the way a school-age child is eating when they are young, they’re going to carry that with them throughout their life. Healthy eating is tied to better mental cognition, academic performance, improved attendance, behavior issues, and athletic performance. It’s super important all-around.
What advice would you give a district looking to do more scratch cooking?
Start small. There are some really great speed-scratch products; you could start by introducing some of those to your kids. Work with your school food staff and help them learn the importance of serving healthier food to kids so that you can get buy in from them.
If you really want to make a difference, you need to introduce scratch cooking. It’s the only way to really ensure you’re serving the best quality food.
In your experience, what are the biggest challenges facing school food during the pandemic? Where do you see opportunities or hopeful areas?
Food access is a huge challenge. School districts are really trying hard to make sure they’re still able to provide food to families that are in need and making sure kids are receiving their to-go meals.
Labor is another big issue with school food departments right now. School food departments are having to absorb labor costs even though staff are not working and the amount of meals they are serving may be lower than previous years.
Many school districts have also taken a step backwards in terms of all the progress that’s been made with scratch cooking. A lot of prepackaged food is being bought right now. The sustainability issue is a concern.
School districts need to know that it’s still possible to cook from scratch even while serving to-go food. You can still use commodities and you can purchase high quality ingredients and package it yourself. Food quality doesn’t have to suffer.
In terms of what makes me hopeful, it’s the idea of universal free meals that’s promising. The new guidelines for free meals are going to encourage many more families to take advantage of these to-go meals and encourage more kids to eat their school food. The fact that the USDA extended the summer feeding waiver is promising—maybe there’s more of that to come in the future.
How did you get involved with the Chef Ann Foundation?
I got involved with the Chef Ann Foundation years ago when I was the chef at BVSD. I did a lot of recipe testing that CAF would contract out—and a lot of those recipes are now up on The Lunch Box and free to school food professionals all over the country!
I was also the Director of Nutrition Services for Napa Valley Unified School District when the district was selected for the Get Schools Cooking grant program. I was hired there to transition away from a food service management company and create a self-operating program and transition to scratch cooking.
Why is the Chef Ann Foundation’s work important?
CAF’s work is important because they’re really leading the country in pushing for school food reform. They have touched thousands of schools nationwide and are really reinforcing the fact that scratch cooking in school food programs is the best way to take care of kids while transforming your school food program into a sustainable model.
What are you most excited to bring to the CAF team with your expertise?
I’m most excited to bring my 12 years of operational experience in school food programs, my experience being a chef and running production kitchens, and the work I did as the chef of BVSD for years working with Chef Ann. As the Director at NVUSD over the last 3 years, we transitioned to a self-operating program—I’m just really excited to share that info with school districts across the country and help them go to work on their programs as well.
To learn more about Brandy, or if you are interested in featuring her for a speaking engagement, click here.