The Future is Fresh

  • Chef Ann News
  • October 07, 2015
  • By: Mara Fleishman
  • Comments

When the Chef Ann Foundation launched its #realschoolfood campaign, one of the very first comments we received in response was, “It’s sad we even need a campaign like this.” Having logged many hours with the team in preparation for this event, honestly, for a while that comment struck a nerve with me. However after thinking about it, I couldn’t agree more. It is sad that we need a campaign to create awareness around the need for schools to serve REAL food that’s cooked on-site with fresh ingredients. But the fact is, we do.

Why #RealSchoolFood?

Thankfully, we are moving away from an era of make it fast, make it cheap and pump it full of taste. You can see it all around you–new fast food restaurants are using real ingredients, announcing partnerships with farmers, exposing the source of their food, and removing artificial ingredients from their products. Awareness around GMO’s, organics, and artificial additives has entered the mainstream. However, schools aren’t moving as fast as the private sector is…and understandably so. With only an average of $1.20 to spend on food costs per meal, it’s hard to make those changes a reality.

30.4 million students eat school lunch every day, and unfortunately many schools are still operating re-heat kitchens that serve our kids highly processed foods with long and mysterious ingredient lists. We know that the obesity crisis continues to be a huge issue for our nation’s children and we know what the answer is: better nutrition and exercise. So, why is it so hard?

The Challenge

After decades of heat and serve operations, moving back to cook from scratch programing is difficult on all levels. Schools don’t have the necessary equipment, so capital investments are needed. Schools don’t have staff that are trained to actually cook in kitchens, so an investment in training is necessary. Purchasing and procurement is an art, especially when you only have $1.20 to spend on food costs per meal. When you run a heat and serve program, it’s easier – the meals are all packaged up under one price that fits your budget. Once you start buying the carrots and the pasta and the meat all separately it requires financial modeling, menu planning, recipe development, etc. Making these types of changes can be overwhelming and taxing on a system that is already stretched and underfunded.

Often when talking about school food, after I explain what schools are up against people nod their heads and you can see it in their faces–they just resign to thinking change is impossible. School food reform is hard but it is NOT impossible, and that is why we launched #realschoolfood. The message is simple: we don’t need chicken served in nugget form with 25 ingredients as a primary menu item in our schools. Not only don’t we need it, we won’t stand for it. 

This excerpt from the New York Times article “Schools Restore Fresh Cooking to the Cafeteria” sums up the goal of this campaign:

“A lot of schools are looking to prepare more items from scratch…Consider the bean burrito: last year, in arriving from the factory wrapped in cellophane, each one had more than 35 ingredients, including things like potassium citrate and zinc oxide. This year: 12, including real cheddar cheese. Italian salad dressing went from 19 ingredients to 9, with sodium reduced by almost three-fourths and sugar — the fourth ingredient in the factory blend — eliminated entirely.”

Our Mission

​The Chef Ann Foundation was founded by chef and lunch lady extraordinaire Ann Cooper. After moving from district to district trying to help schools create cook from scratch programing, Ann had a vision to start a foundation that would provide all the information and tools that schools need to move to a scratch cook program, for free. Nearly 7 years after launching the Chef Ann Foundation, we now touch over 2.4 million students with our programing, which is in over 5,000 school districts and every state of our nation. The Lunch Box, graciously funded by Whole Foods Market and the Colorado Health Foundation, provides schools with tools and resources for menu development, whole food procurement, food cost analysis, labor costing worksheets, revenue projecting, and much more. The Lunchbox also houses over 220 USDA compliant, school tested recipes that are scalable so that schools can use them with any student population size. 

In addition to our existing grant programs the Chef Ann Foundation is so excited to announce the launch of their School Food Support Initiative (SFSI) grant in partnership with Lifetime Foundation and Whole Kids Foundation. These grants are valued at $120,000 per district and take schools through a 16-month program that supports them in creating a cook from scratch program via assessment, strategic planning, boot camp, and facilities grants. This grant will really move the needle in helping schools make change.

So if you haven’t already, please help support #realschoolfood by participating through your social media. The more awareness we bring to the issue, the more likely that change will happen.  Visit realschoolfood.org today and help us get the word out.

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