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Chef Ann Cooper Pushes For Progress On School Lunch Reform

An Empty School Cafeteria?

We have heard it over and over…American school lunches need reform and despite efforts from many, progress is still so slow.  Looking at how children eat school lunch in other countries, (which this website has done during the last couple months focusing specifically on France) our “rich” America lacks shamefully behind other industrialized countries in regards to the healthiness of our school menus.  As Chef Ann Cooper discusses below, we must take in our hands our children’s’ health future by feeding our kids right at school.  Over the long-term this investment will pay off as we will see less lifestyle related health issues in our adult children. Read below, get involved in your school, practice good healthy eating habits at home and have a say in what your kids are eating.  It is TRULY important!  The original article below appeared on Chef Ann Cooper’s website in conjunction with National School Lunch Week and is reposted by permission here.  Please don’t hesitate to add comments, the debate is open.

Also, if you are interested in getting a copy of her book, “Lunch Lessons” here is a link to

Lunch Lessons: Changing the Way We Feed Our Children


Chef Ann Cooper says,

The President has proclaimed this week as National School Lunch Week, the White House press release on this event leads us to believe that there is tremendous progress being made toward healthier school lunches and in some ways we have made progress.  It’s difficult to read a paper, watch TV, listen to NPR or peruse the internet without coming across stories of positive change in school food.

From Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move Campaign to Chefs Move to Schools, From Farm to School to Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution and the work of Foundations like Orfalea and Colorado Health who fund Culinary Boot Camps, Kellogg’s School Food Focus, and the Food Family Farming Foundation’s and Great American Salad Bar Project – so many seem to be working so tirelessly.  So with so much energy, so many movies like Two Angry Mom’s, What’s On Your Plate and Lunch Line and so many advocates like Kate Adamick, Jan Poppendick, Alice Waters; and so many Nutrition Services Directors in places like St Paul, Chicago and NYC; and so many websites like, and; and so many bloggers like Mrs Q, Ed Bruske and Dr Susan Rubin all trying so hard.  And not only advocates, we see companies like Whole Foods Markets, Chipotle Grill, Barbara’s Bakery, Fullblooom Baking Company and Stonyfield all trying to figure out how to help get better food on our kid’s plates.  Why then are we truly making so little progress?

To my mind it’s all politics and money.  Congress has failed to pass Child Nutrition Reauthorization that is now over a year past due and even if it had passed, would only have allocated 4 ½ to 6 cents additional funds per student, so even for the mere pennies per lunch that we could have added to the current $2.72 that we spend on school meals, our elected officials couldn’t come together for the health of our children.  And it’s not just Congress on the hook for the lack of healthy food in schools; we also have the USDA’s Commodity Food System, Big Business and lobbyists convincing our kids that Chicken Nuggets are a food group, Hot Cheetos are breakfast and Chocolate Milk will save our country from an epidemic of Rickets.

The issues just go on and on.

We are told over and over that there’s not enough money to fix school lunch, yet we live in a country where we consistently spend 2, 3, 4 or even 5 times more for our daily coffee than we do on food for our children’s school lunch, which in most school districts amounts to less than a dollar.  From the National perspective it looks even worse.  We spend $9.5 billion dollars per year on school lunch feeding 31 million children a day.  I believe it will cost an extra dollar per day to feed kids “real” unprocessed made from scratch food; fresh fruit, fresh vegetables, whole grains and healthy protein.  So where do we get an extra $5.5 billion per year – well the war is costing $3 billion per week and just two diseases; diabetes and obesity cost $5 billion per week – it’s clearly not that we don’t have the money; it’s the will and passion we’re lacking.

So what to do?

In celebration of National School Lunch Week, I suggest the following:

At Home:

  • Make food, eating and dining an integral part of your family.
  • Cook with your kids.
  • Garden/grow with your kids.
  • Shop with your kids, at least sometimes.
  • Sit down at the table and eat with your entire family
  • Turn off the TV!

In School:

  • Go eat lunch at your child’s school or any local school and see what the food looks and tastes like.
  • Get all of your families and friends to do the same.
  • Petition the school board for better food for all of the district’s children.
  • Get a salad bar for your school from the Great American Salad Bar Project.
  • Work with your school food service staff with information from The
  • Write your elected officials and tell them to pass Child Nutrition Reauthorization and implement the Institute of   Medicine guidelines immediately.

But please, for the health of our kids and our Nation’s future, we really must all step up to the plate and do something, at least one thing to make school food better!

– Chef Ann Cooper

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