This blog post is part of a new series on The Lunch Line called Hero Highlights. The Chef Ann Foundation wants to ensure the incredible stories of our school food workers are being told. These Hero Highlights are stories from the field during this challenging time, as school food teams tackle food insecurity due to widespread school closures amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Stay tuned for more.
For school food support during the coronavirus pandemic, view our COVID-19 Resources & Support page.
For Mike Flynn, Food Service Director in rural Maine, the best way to make an impact during COVID-19 school closures is to stay connected—constantly. Flynn has been able to act quickly and center his emergency feeding program around data, compassion, and community.
Sheepscot Valley RSU 12 has an enrollment of 1,000, with 54% of their student population eligible for free and reduced lunches. At this time, the governor of Maine has mandated statewide district closures until April 24th.
When you first heard the news that COVID-19 might affect your district, what did you do?
We found out that our district was shut down on Monday of last week (March 16, 2020). The first thing we did was draft and send out a survey to our entire community. At the same time, we were putting our application in to qualify for summer feeding mode. We used a Google form, figuring that it was the quickest way we could collect baseline data. It really helped us understand how to streamline our program.
Within 24 hours, we had been approved for summer feeding mode and had enough data from the survey to start sending out the buses. We began our feeding program on Wednesday, March 18, capturing 50% of our population. Two days later that increased, and we are now feeding 60% of our students. Usually, we feed 70%, but since we are serving 7 meals a week, our volume has stayed about the same.
How is your emergency feeding program structured?
Because we are a small town, we will be delivering both breakfast and lunches by bus to individual homes, as if they were picking students up for a normal school day. We are delivering three days a week: Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. On Monday and Wednesday, we deliver a two-day supply, and on Friday we deliver meals to last through the weekend. We have a total of 14 buses running on a two-hour delay from their normal route. Each bus has one bus driver and one education technician making distributions as courteously as they can with regards to the 6-foot distance requirement. They are distributing meals to over 500 students and their siblings. We are a preschool - 8th grade district, but because we are such a small town, many of the high schoolers are able to be fed as well because their siblings are in my district. Because we are in rural Maine, reliable internet access is an issue. With our first round of meals, we were also able to send out educational packets prepared by the teachers for their students to complete some at-home studying.
How has this impacted your procurement?
I am watching daily where my vendors are at. Right now they are a bit challenged to follow through with my full orders. I am trying to be ahead of the curve and place my orders at least seven days out. We are striving for as many plant-based meals as possible, incorporating whole fruits, and vegetables. If these options run out, we will move to creative pre-pack items. It’s a bob-and-weave maneuver; since we started, I have had emails coming in from vendors with updates on what is or is not available. I purchase in a co-op model, with most Maine districts sharing a limited group of vendors. We will all share the available produce, and may not all get exactly what we want, based on demand, and limited supply.
How are you prioritizing which foods to serve?
We are starting with fresh fruits and vegetables in the whole form. It is the easiest for us to prepare, keep sanitary and will remain shelf-stable upon arrival. We are trying to minimize staff preparing food hands-on, but we are prepping some items, like cucumbers.
How does this differ from your typical meal program?
We are not offering hot food. The meals we are offering are similar to what students take on field trips. We are strictly doing bagged meals for breakfasts and lunches.
How is your staff handling this? Are you using any special protocols?
Our school food staff is very positive; they are all very interested and being thorough, helping to capture each student in need. We have had custodial support with a fogging system after each day to keep our production area sanitized. We are minimizing non-food service personnel in the production area, and are only using staff with adequate food safety training and experience in the kitchen to minimize cross-contamination. We are utilizing our standard sanitization Standard Operating Procedures. Our distribution team is wearing gloves, they have sanitizer on the buses, and our food is stored in cooler bag systems that have ice packs to keep food chilled en route. Only one person on each bus is distributing the food.
What have been some of your biggest successes?
I am really proud of how the nutrition team has made this happen so fast. They knew the need was there but at first, there weren’t a lot of answers particularly with headcount. We just didn’t have a number. I am proud of how they managed that, and we have been able to adjust as needed. Honestly, we would not have been able to see so much success here without the superintendent’s comfort and support. He manages his administrators with an empowerment approach i.e. here’s what you need, tell me how I can help. That trust and support is incredible. He is out here with us packing meals. Having someone at the top is really helping us get through all of this.
For school food support during the coronavirus pandemic, view our COVID-19 Resources & Support page.]]>
One thing is for sure: Lori Danella will do whatever it takes to keep her community fed. We had a chance to catch up with Lori, Food Service Director at Lee’s Summit R7 School District in Kansas City, Missouri, during a time when feelings of anxiety and stress are running high. Lori is on the front lines of emergency feeding at her school district, guiding her team with grace and compassion, and seeing success through her programming.
In Lee’s Summit, schools are currently on spring break. Earlier this week, they received word that schools would not resume session until April 3rd, with the possibility of an extension. This means that come Monday, March 23rd, her feeding plan will be in full swing. She opened a window for us into the critical planning phase when operating through this once-in-a-lifetime crisis, and shared some of her biggest challenges and successes so far.
Lee's Summit R7 has a total of 24 schools dispersed through the district. Their enrollment is just over 18,000 with a 21% Free and Reduced Lunch Rate and has over 50% Average Daily Participation in their meal program.
When you first heard the news that COVID-19 might affect your district, what did you do?
First, I created a new standard operating procedure for the HACCP (Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point) manual. I am using time as a control so anything that is perishable, like extra milk, will not go back in stock after the meals are served for the day. We are trying to limit food waste but will take extra precautions to uphold and maintain safety for our staff and students.
Are you still receiving your expected food deliveries?
I have been in contact with our supplier, US Foods, who will still be doing deliveries as usual. We will be sticking to our forecasted menu plans; at this time it is difficult to acquire items we have not already forecasted with the distributor due to increased demand nationwide. Our dairy supplier let us know there is no shortage, and they will be able to supply any amount we need. I think it’s very important that our students will still receive milk for both breakfasts and lunches.
How are you prioritizing which foods to serve?
Well, we are fortunate to have a warehouse with an up-to-date inventory. Each individual school also has up-to-date stock levels. I will be prioritizing the most shelf-stable items we have [for folks to take home], which is a considerable amount. We are anticipating serving over 1,000 breakfasts and lunches per day.
How will this differ from your typical meal program?
We usually have five hot lunch options per day. In this case, we will only have one option. There is such high demand, we need to create an effective system for assembly. Breakfasts will be packed in brown bags and lunches are in clear plastic bags. Both will meet all the meal components set by the USDA. We are also going to do some experimenting during this time. Our kids love breakfast burritos so we will try to have heated breakfast burritos one day, stored in separate coolers. When students pull up, we will add in the breakfast burritos and hand them over. We will be communicating that all meals are for immediate consumption off-site. Everyone who comes to a site will receive a meal, regardless of if they qualify for free and reduced lunches.
How did you choose which school sites to serve, and how will you serve the meals?
It has taken quite a bit of work, to be honest with you. Three of our schools have over 50% of students that qualify for Free and Reduced lunches, but those families also have limited transportation, so those schools were our first choice. We then spread out the remaining sites to encompass as much of our population as we could and our serving area is still growing. We will be putting the meals together at one of our high schools using our food service staff and will be relying on transportation staff to drive the buses. The buses will pick the meals up along with 2 of our staff to distribute the meals at our planned stops. We will have five buses going to two school locations for each meal. These buses will also make stops at large apartment complexes and townhouses. Our district has dispersed poverty and we need to make sure we are serving our entire community, especially those without income right now.
How is your staff handling this? Are you using any special protocols?
Our staff is in it; all we are hearing is “What can we do to help?” and “When do we get to work?” I am doing my best to take into account everyone’s needs. We are all listening to each other and working together. We are following all of our usual standard operating procedures - we have a perfect health inspection record. We truly live and breathe food and health safety. Out in the community, my staff will be wearing masks and we will be trying to limit congregating at the feeding sites. Meals will be picked up by families so there is no hand to hand contact. There will be gloves and sanitizer supplies on each bus so my staff can be changing gloves after each family they interact with. We have had overwhelming support from the community wanting to help, and we are working on a plan to properly train any volunteers on sanitation and safety.
What have been some of your biggest successes?
This has to be the most stressful situation I have ever endured due to the unknowns. My biggest success has been pulling this plan together in less than a week. So many families and students rely on us for food, and we are going to do whatever it takes to get them fed. We have been able to work closely with our Mckenny-Vento and Head Start programs as well—no student has been overlooked. I am thankful for the incredible support we have from the School Nutrition Association and my fellow Food Service Directors. This is a once in a lifetime situation, and we need to continue to stay flexible.
For school food support during the coronavirus pandemic, view our COVID-19 Resources & Support page.]]>
Our Salad Bars to Schools program administrator fields regular inquiries regarding the grant application process. This blog will address some of the most common questions so you can submit a successful application and have a strong understanding of the program and what you will receive. If you have a question that is not answered here, feel free to reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org.
I am interested in applying for a salad bar but I need a specific type. Do you support bars other than the Cambro Versa Salad Bar seen on your website?
At this time, we only donate insulated, non-electric Cambro Versa Salad Bars. If you or your district are concerned about keeping food cold, we suggest that you share these temperature retention test results with your local health authority. These results show that the insulated Cambro/Versa Salad Bars can hold a safe temperature of under 41 degrees for a period of 4 hours. Should these bars not meet the needs of your district, we do occasionally accommodate a request for electric bars; however, they are significantly more expensive and can prove to be more challenging to fund. If this is the case, your wait time may be much longer. You can view the exact specifications of the Cambro Versa Salad Bar here.
How long will it take to receive a salad bar after our application has been approved?
After we approve a salad bar application, it can take 12-18 months on average to fund each request for salad bars. It often takes less time, but this is due to the nature of how our program works, and the number of schools on our waitlist. On average, we have anywhere from 300 – 500 school districts with requests for salad bars at any given time.
Do we have to raise money for our salad bar?
You do not have to raise money for your salad bar. As a partnership, we take on the responsibility of funding your bars. You may perform Supplementary Fundraising to accelerate the funding of your salad bar(s), but you are not required to do this. Once your application has been approved, your district will automatically be included on our Donate a Salad Bar page, where your supporters can make direct donations to your district online. Physical checks* can be mailed to us at:
Salad Bars to Schools
℅ Chef Ann Foundation
5445 Conestoga Ct, Ste 150
Boulder, Colorado 80301
*Please be sure to include the name of the district or independent school on the memo line of all checks.
My school is a charter/public/specialty school. Am I still allowed to apply for the grant?
Any school participating in the National School Lunch Program (NSLP) is eligible to apply for our salad bar grants. Schools that do not participate in the NSLP are encouraged to take advantage of the free resources throughout The Lunch Box to assist you in planning and implementing a salad bar in your school.
I am a parent/teacher/community member of a district. Can I apply for a salad bar on behalf of my district?
Unfortunately, our applications must be filled out by or directly supervised by a district Food Service Director. The application asks some detailed questions they will need to answer and the ultimate responsibility of incorporating the salad bar into their daily food planning and purchasing will be held by them. We encourage you to share this grant opportunity with your local school and district and have some resources you might find useful:
Ready to submit your application? Access our grant portal here and visit the Salad Bars to Schools website for more information.]]>
Last fall, we partnered with Danone North America to create made-from-scratch dressings using Silk milks (soy and coconut milk). These recipes offer schools a creative way to integrate plant based and plant forward recipes into their school food menus.
As part of this initiative, we asked school food professionals to share their experience serving plant forward recipes. Thanks to Danone, we awarded entrants with a course scholarship to the School Food Institute! (We still have a few scholarships available; click here to take the survey!)
We’re so excited about the responses we got from school food professionals around the country. Here are our favorite highlights:
According to our survey, school food teams nationwide are serving up a variety of plant forward options to kids, including:
Pho Rice Noodle Soup witih Tofu, served at Bellevue School District in Washington and offered at the district's middle and high schools. According to Nutrition Services Director and dietitian Shoko Kumagai, the district experienced record participation for the lauch of this item, then sustained one of the top counts of the month since on the menu.
Schools are also experimenting with plant forward dishes inspired by different ethnic cuisines:
(Click here for plant based recipes ready for school kitchens!)
Marketing plant forward meal options is an effective way to promote participation, as well as share the health and environmental benefits with students and staff. We have tools and resources available here on The Lunch Box, but survey-takers also shared the ways they spread the word:
“By talking to people one-on-one, and having folks sample the day’s dish, students and teachers are well aware of from-scratch recipes I use.” - Joshua Strassburg, Hope Public Schools, Hope, ME
“Students help cut vegetables and prepare monthly taste tests at the school. Taste tests in the past followed Vermont Harvest of the Month. This year, we focus on international recipes, such as Ratatouille, Mexican Street Corn, Miso Soup, or Middle Eastern Hummus. Information and recipes are shared to all staff via the school and on social media to families.” - Julie Schwetlick, Champlain Valley School District, Hinesburg, VT
“More often, we rely on the food being really tasty and highlighting what makes it great, rather than focusing on the fact that it is plant based.” - Sara Youngbar, Monterey Peninsula Unified School District, Monterey, CA
Shoko Kumagai at Washington's Bellevue School District launched a "Passport to Flavors of the World" Lunch Series to offer different flavors from around the world and the U.S. on school menus. Kumagai has experienced positive support from district administration; the superintendent engages with staff in the kitchen, serving food and engaging with students in the service line. Learn more about their series here.
Additional communication tactics:
Plant forward options served in schools nationwide are being met with open minds and positive feedback. Take a look the success these districts have experienced:
“Students are appreciative that we are offering menu items that they can eat. [They] are loving the vegetable plant based options at the high school.” - Julie Chessen, Ojai Unified School District, Ojai, CA
“Kids have become very excited over time to participate in the taste test prep, which has translated into an increase in trying the prepared taste tests during lunch. The long-term goal is to decrease inhibitions to try new foods in the cafeteria and become more open to trying/eating vegetables in the lunch line and at home. We usually have the kids vote if they liked the taste test, or if they are unsure/would need to try again. The kitchen staff tries to incorporate popular recipes in the regular lunch lineup.” - Julie Schwetlick, Champlain Valley School District, Hinesburg, VT
“Students eat with their eyes. When food is displayed, garnished, and served to them individually, they are more likely to try different things. I have had students eat plant forward meals just because it looks good, then come back later and let us know how good it was.” - Bob Mencimer, Santa Clara Unified School District, Santa Clara, CA
“Because the calorie count is lower and the ingredients are inexpensive, I can serve larger portions. This is a hit with older elementary students.” - Elizabeth Skypeck, Champlain Valley School District, Hinesburg, VT
We asked survey-takers what makes plant forward meals in schools so important—in their own words. Here’s what they said:
“Nutrition is not only about the health of your body; it’s also about the health of our environment. It’s time to think about how the food we put on our plates affects our environment, and plant forward foods address this game-changing factor.” - Julie Chessen, Ojai Unified School District, Ojai, CA
“Children at a young age need to understand that a balanced, healthful diet is the foundation of a healthy life and the basis to being able to learn,” - Julie Schwetlick, Champlain Valley School District, Hinesburg, VT
“Everyone can see that they can eat what they grow, and that it is not difficult to add variety into your daily menu routine.” - Jacklyn Aldrich, Chadwick R-1 School District, Chadwick, MO
“I had one boy that had never seen a peach that was not from a can. He found out he likes them fresh.” - Cheryl Neyens, Frazee Vergas Public School District #23
“At lunchtime, we have 170 opportunities a year to help kids make choices and establish habits that will contribute to their lifelong health and a cleaner environment. Plant forward meals are healthy, sustainable, use local products, and are kind to the planet.” - Elizabeth Skypeck, Champlain Valley Union
We launched our plant forward initiative, More Plants Please!, to help districts serve meals that are beneficial to student health, the environment, and even school food finances. Click here for plant forward recipes, tools and resources, and all the info you need to get started!]]>
Our organization was founded to address one major problem: a lack of tools, resources, and knowledge about scratch-cooked school food. Back in the early 2000s, many schools wanted to transition to healthier meals, but lacked the operational insight to make the switch. Chef Ann Cooper had started her life’s work of supporting healthy school food, and envisioned a comprehensive online source that would share all the necessary materials and information to make school food healthier. Behold, The Lunch Box website was born.
Our very first Lunch Box site launched in 2010, to the great fanfare of school districts everywhere, and only became more popular with time. The Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 (HHFKA) propelled healthy school food to a national discussion, and schools lined up for our free-access, free-to-use resources and expertise. The Lunch Box became the foundational bank of knowledge that inspired all of our additional programs, and remains the largest resource for scratch-food operational knowledge in the country.
In 2014, we relaunched the site with a ton of new content and resources, especially addressing the regulations and impact of HHFKA. But a lot has changed since then. Salad bars in schools, once a ground-breaking idea, has become widely implemented and recognized across the country (fun fact: we’ve granted over 5,600 school salad bars in 10 years). The USDA’s guidelines for school food have changed countless times, spanning everything from a la carte menus to professional development.
As an organization rooted in this industry, we’ve kept our content relevant and accurate for school food professionals across the country, but it’s time for another major revision. School food trends are moving faster than ever, and we want to provide the best possible support for districts everywhere. That’s why we’re excited to announce the newest version of The Lunch Box, launching in April 2020!
To make sure we provide the most helpful resources, we surveyed school food professionals and stakeholders on their most needed tools. We’ve spent the last year developing a new website with their feedback in mind.
Thanks to support from the Colorado Health Foundation and our web design agency Frank & Victor, the new site includes a complete content and recipe review, as well as:
We’re thrilled to offer these new resources and cutting-edge case studies to school districts across the country. The Lunch Box is, and will continue to be, a completely free-to-access site for healthy school food advocates everywhere.
School food will continue to change, and we’ll continue to partner with school food professionals to push the field forward. We’re already planning our next round of new content and resources, including ideas like:
We’re always looking to foster new partnerships and program collaborations. If your school district or organization is interested in any of these future topics, please contact us.
The future of school food relies on the continued expansion of shared knowledge and support. We’re committed to always looking forward, and can’t wait to share the new website with you in April!]]>
After careful review of Get Schools Cooking applications from across the country, the Chef Ann team, in partnership with Whole Kids Foundation, has selected five districts to add to the existing group of 15 districts working to create change and serve fresh, delicious meals to students.
Get Schools Cooking (GSC) is a program designed to guide districts through the process of becoming a sustainably-run, scratch-cook meal program. The program focuses on what CAF considers the five key areas of school food operations: food, finance, facilities, human resources, and marketing. It all kicks off with a workshop in Boulder, CO, where food service directors and other key team members from each district engage in sessions about menu planning and human resources and visit school kitchens and cafeterias in Boulder Valley School District, a leader in school food change. Over the course of the next year and a half, each district will go through an assessment of their meal program, resulting in a report and recommendations for change. This is followed by a presentation with district administration and strategic planning; virtual and onsite technical assistance; an additional $35,000 for purchases such as software and equipment; and yearly evaluations.
Get Schools Cooking is a nationally recognized comprehensive program that provides the support and means to bring more fresh whole foods to schools. But don’t just take it from us! Here is what the new districts are saying about becoming part of the fourth Get Schools Cooking cohort.
Beaufort County Schools ~ Washington, NC
“Beaufort County Schools School Nutrition Department is honored to be selected as one of five districts nationwide in the 2019 Get Schools Cooking cohort. We intend to take this opportunity to bring fresh ideas, fresh (local) foods and fresh cooking to our students making their day as healthy as possible. The possibilities for School Nutrition in Beaufort County just became endless!”
~ Gwyn Roberson-McBride, Child Nutrition Director
Franklin Special School District ~ Franklin, TN
“We are excited about the opportunity that the Get Schools Cooking grant will provide for us to look objectively at every aspect of our program and to help us develop a plan as we move to increase the amount of scratch cooking our schools provide. The ultimate goal is for our students to have healthy options with fresh, locally grown food prepared in our own kitchens by a knowledgeable staff. We know the Chef Ann Foundation will help us achieve this goal.”
~ Robbin Cross, Child Nutrition Supervisor
Manhattan-Ogden USD 383 ~ Manhattan, KS
“We are excited to join the GSC program with their knowledge and expertise to help us pinpoint sustainable changes to continue to provide our students with the best food options possible.”
~ Stephanie Smith, Director of Child Nutrition
South Madison Community School Corporation ~ Pendleton, IN
“South Madison Community School Corporation is incredibly excited to be a recipient of the Get Schools Cooking grant from the Chef Ann Foundation. Our Nutrition Services team is proud of the important work we do each day serving our students and community high quality, wholesome, balanced meals in Pendleton, Indiana. We are thrilled for the opportunity to work alongside the experts with the Chef Ann Foundation and build upon our strong base to increase the variety and diversity of our program for our students. We can't wait to get started!”
~ Lindsey A. Hill, RD, SNS, Director of Nutrition Services
Wisconsin Rapids Public Schools ~ Wisconsin Rapids, WI
"We are very excited to join the Get Schools Cooking program! We believe this is a perfect next step for our district's school nutrition program as we continue to pursue our goals of providing students with more whole, fresh foods. We look forward to working with the GSC team and learning ways we can incorporate more scratch cooking methods into our program."
~ Elizabeth Messerli, RD, Director of Food Services
As we welcome this new group of districts, it is also a time to reflect and look back at some of the accomplishments of previous districts from the program:
All of these exciting results come from hard work and a passion for healthy school food. We cannot wait to see what these new districts will be able to accomplish!
Interested in Get Schools Cooking for your district? The grant opens every 18 months, so look for our next application round in January 2021 and visit the program page now to learn more.]]>
Editor’s Note: Given the USDA school nutrition rollbacks announced on January 17, 2020, the Chef Ann Foundation believes it is more imperative than ever that we continue working with districts nationwide to improve their school food programs. You can view our statement on the subject here.
2019 was a big year for me personally; my oldest kid headed off to college for her freshman year, my middle got her driver’s license, and my youngest started calling his friends “dudes.” I celebrated my 50th birthday, the Chef Ann Foundation’s 10 year anniversary, and my 7th year leading the organization.
For those of you who haven’t reached the 50-year mark yet, it’s a really interesting experience. Birthdays have never bothered me; working full-time and having three kids gives me plenty to fill my time. For me, it was never about getting older—just about what was next. The thing about 50 is that you can remember when your parents turned 50, and you can remember thinking they were old.
Well, after having a momentary panic at that thought, I decided I was going to celebrate the crap out of 50. I did four things that had been on my bucket list. I took a hiking trip through the Pyrenees Mountains in Spain. I asked my husband to throw me a Clam Bake (growing up in Massachusetts and now living in Colorado, I really wanted to have a traditional Clam Bake with all my CO friends). I went to Nashville, TN with my high school friends and really soaked up the culture. And finally, I did a cross country ski trip, staying in yurts in the Tennessee Pass in CO. After all that, I can say I feel more like 25 than 50, and I’m ready to continue tackling my bucket list year after year.
This brings us to the work of the Chef Ann Foundation (CAF). I am not good at “slow speed” (never really have been), but I had to learn to be because school food reform just doesn’t happen overnight. I realized this year how grateful I am for Ann Cooper, who has always approached this work from a systems perspective. My first 3 years at the organization, I felt I was listening, learning and, frankly, making mistakes. There is so much to know about school food operations, especially the systems you need to create change: community, government, agriculture, manufacturing, health, food service, education, career development—the list goes on.
I can honestly say that 2019 was my most favorite year at CAF. While I didn’t stop learning, I could take breaks to synthesize what I was learning into more effective strategy development. Together, Ann, the team and I were able to really drill down and think about the most critical needs in school food and build our approaches. Below are some of the ones that I am particularly excited about, which have been bucket list items for this organization since 2009. 2020 is going to be an exciting year.
The Lunch Box: Newly Updated & Improved
Thanks to our wonderful partners at the Colorado Health Foundation, we have been able to take the last year to assess The Lunch Box and determine what the needs will be for the next five years for cook-from-scratch school food operations. In the spring of 2020, we will launch the next iteration of The Lunch Box, and I am particularly excited about some of the new content coming your way:
District Self Assessments
The cornerstone of our more comprehensive work is the district onsite assessments in our Get Schools Cooking program. This is a massive undertaking with experts onsite for 5-30 days assessing the five key areas of a streamlined, coherent cook-from-scratch program: food, finance, facilities, human resources, and marketing.
Cooking from scratch is a continuum—not an “all or nothing” approach. We want to help school districts assess their current position, and outline the next steps in the continuum toward positive change. We hope to start work on this assessment platform in June of 2020 and launch during by the winter of 2021 to start giving districts the opportunity for yearly self-assessments and mark their improvements.
Get Schools Cooking Data
We have always known instinctively that cooking from scratch using whole, fresh ingredients is better for children and the planet. As a chef and activist, it is what drove Chef Ann to move her talents into school food and start this organization. After 10 years of pushing back on the system and supporting those that have wanted to create change, we now know it’s time to research and document the outcomes of moving to a cook-from-scratch program.
We are rolling back our sleeves and making sure that skeptics have the formal research they need to understand the impact a cook-from-scratch program can have. We are thankful to our partners at the Gretchen Swanson Center for Nutrition, who have been doing credible national evaluation on food programing for years. We’re excited to see their first evaluation document come out in early 2020 focused on our first Get Schools Cooking cohort from 2016.
It’s now the start of my 8th year leading CAF. I love my job and the work we do, though it has been a learning process for me. It’s taken some time to really understand school food operations, what the restraints are, the opportunities, and the systems that need to work together for real improvement. I have been so lucky to work side-by-side with Chef Ann for the last 7 years and learn from her, along with other seasoned school food leaders.
As more and more people look to transition to a cook-from-scratch program, we need operators that can help districts create the change. People have to see success in the field (and in different district types) to understand how to take on the integrated components of a successful scratch-cook program. That is why we have been working on a CAF fellowship program. We are digging in throughout 2020 to create the structure, learning opportunities, and requirements for a successful fellowship program that will produce experienced school food professionals capable of managing and training others on how to run a successful cook-from-scratch program.
Our Advisory Board
An advisory board is so important for the work we do. Having a supportive group of school food professionals that are committed—not only to the change they are trying to make in their districts, but to pay that change forward—is critical. I am so proud to have these amazing professionals on our Advisory Board: Sunny Young Baker, Betty T. Izumi, Jenny Montague, Adam Russo, Spencer Taylor, Matt Poling, Janice King, Jessica Shelly, Bertrand Weber, Miguel Villarreal, Rob Jaber, and David Husbands.
Every year, we try and meet the needs of our stakeholders. We never want to grow just to grow; we are determined to stay connected to school food professionals and constantly look for ways to support moving their school food program forward on the continuum of scratch cooking. Based on the needs of our stakeholders, the capacity of our team, and the mission of our organization, we have the following major impact goals:
It’s time to dig in. Cheers to an exceptional 2020!
CEO Chef Ann Foundation]]>
Please click on the image below for the full statement (with links).
As a concerned parent and community member, I’ve worked with my school district to bring fresh food and nutrition education to our students since 2012. I am proud to be a Chef Ann Foundation Parent Advocate for real school food. But why did I become a parent advocate in the first place?
I dove into the unknown waters of school food after a family food change deeply impacted the course of my daughter’s learning, attention, and social development. I became passionate about getting more real, whole, and nutrient-dense food into the school lunchroom; I knew that if one child could go from failing to thriving in less than 5 months, then connecting others to the positive message of good food education could make a real difference.
Schools are the biggest restaurants in our communities, and these “restaurants” directly impact our students’ mind-body/gut-brain connections. We all care about how well our children are learning, but we don’t necessarily focus on how nutrient-dense foods can unlock a student’s mind and support increased emotional wellbeing.
The WHY is easy. The HOW is hard.
Here is how the Chef Ann Foundation can help you spark more school food love in your district.
In 2013, I reached out to my school district, Diamond Lake District 76, and became a member of the D76 Wellness Committee. (If a Wellness Committee does not exist for your school district, can you inspire one to form or to meet more regularly? Our group was “paper official” at the time, but not meeting regularly.)
I made connections with staff members and began building trust with those who shared the same passion for improving school food. Together with a school nurse, we applied for the Chef Ann Foundation Project Produce grant in 2015, and were awarded the grant for the 2016 school year. We named our pilot program the “Chef’s Tasting Table” (CTT) to bring more fresh produce into the lunchroom once a month.
To this day, it continues to be a huge success. Here’s how our CTT program works in a nutshell, and how you can implement something similar in your district:
Our CTT Program has been so successful that the administration has funded the program every year since 2016. Moreover, starting this year, the Board of Education and administration made the HUGE decision to partner with a neighboring school district, whose “from scratch” central kitchen (run by Quest Foods) now serves our entire district.* It’s been a great way to quickly make the transition to serving healthy, fresh meals until we are ready to become a self-operated scratch cook meal program ourselves. And the students are eating it up: our National School Lunch participation is up by nearly 20%, which means we are most certainly providing more real school food for all!
So, what have we learned? We are still learning! And… Small steps work. Here are some of my most important takeaways from being a parent advocate in my district.
There are few examples of how to make changes towards more real food in our American school lunchrooms. The Chef Ann Foundation is leading the way with all sorts of resources to help parent advocates and school administrations create their unique map towards more real school food. Anyone can help make change in a school district and CAF is here to help parent advocates every step of the way. Check out their incredible grant offerings, school food training program, and most especially their awesome Parent Advocacy Toolkit.
As parents, we are an essential source of inspiration to help get food education back into our schools. Stick with it. There is no one better than us to spark new school food ideas for our districts. We will continue to experience the challenges and thrills of laying foundations for others to join us in building. Keep it fun. Keep it positive, for this energy is what fuels others to join us. Ride the waves of success and disappointment. Let the negatives go when they come at you. Begin again. Stay grateful. It’s worth it.
Become a CAF parent advocate with me and join this incredible real school food movement!
*Editor’s note: The Chef Ann Foundation advocates for a self-operated cook-from-scratch program whenever possible, though partnering with a neighboring district is a great way to incorporate scratch-cooked food depending on your district’s options and capabilities.
Lindsey Shifley is a certified Mind Body Eating Coach and Wellness Chef for Compass Hiking and Yoga, a softball pitching coach & food educator in Lake County, Illinois, and a former Super Food Ambassador for Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution, which closed its programming in 2018. Check out her blog, The Mullies, here.]]>
This blog has been republished with the permission of Salad Bars to Schools.
The Salad Bars to Schools partnership truly believes that salad bars are the best option for offering a variety of fresh produce for students at school. They are visually appealing and make it easy for school food operators to meet the weekly vegetable subgroup requirements. Many operators want to add a salad bar to their serving line but are limited in available space to incorporate it before the point of sale (POS) and thus ensure students are taking a meal that qualifies for reimbursement from USDA. Here are some ideas for offering a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables no matter where the salad bar is placed.
A good practice is for all cashiers to keep ½ cup servings of fruits and vegetables (whole unwrapped, wrapped or packaged as required by your local health department) at the POS in case a student reaches them without this required component or for those students who notoriously try to skip the salad bar.
Oh, and while you’re at it, don’t forget to give the offerings on your salad bars a fun name! It’s been proven to raise vegetable consumption when they are given a taste focused name such as “Asian Sesame-glazed Edamame” For ideas, check out Stanford University’s Edgy Veggies Toolkit.
So get creative – don’t let space be the deciding factor when considering whether or not to include a salad bar in your school serving line. The increased consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables by students and the ability for them to be able to create a fully reimbursable meal from fresh healthy options is worth the extra effort to rethink your space and retrain the students who, let’s be honest, will have it mastered within two weeks!
Have any other strategies worked for you? Let us know by sending an email to email@example.com.]]>