cooking facilities is a mandatory part of
making school food systems healthier.
Challenge 3: Financing
U.S. public schools need more money
to adequately finance their breakfast
and lunch programs. Currently, the
federal reimbursement rate is $2.72 per
lunch; in addition, all districts receive
19. 5 cents more per child if they buy
commodities foods. Most schools spend
less than $1 on food per child per day,
with the rest of the money being spent
for staffing and organizational costs.
If the amount spent were increased to
$1.50 per child per day, we could feed
kids healthy food. Think about it; many
of us spend more on our daily coffee (a
large latte often costs $5.00) than most
schools allocate for a week’s worth of
In Boulder, we have reduced
our costs by buying whole
ingredients and cooking from
scratch, which cost less for us
than buying processed foods.
Moving to five production
kitchens has shortened
the time we need to
prepare the food, and thus
lessened our staffing costs.
Most of today’s school kitchen workers
lack adequate food-service training—
something we had to tackle in Boulder
before change was possible. We pro-
vided uniforms and culinary training
programs for our school food workers.
We developed guides for profession-
alism, pay scales, new job descriptions,
and staff configurations—all essentials
for running safe and healthy kitchens.
Challenge 5: Marketing
It’s one thing to make the food, another
to get kids to eat it. Many successful
school lunch programs around the
United States employ traditional marketing techniques that treat children
as potential customers; they “sell” the
Taking on the
is no small task.
food. Attractive advertising, packaging,
and service have been shown to increase
consumption of a larger variety of school
lunch foods. A marketing campaign
both supports and augments nutrition
education as part of the basic cur-
riculum. “Big food” spends $20 billion
a year marketing nonnutritious food to
children (Brownell & Warner, 2009).
Schools need to focus on marketing
school food as cool food. In Boulder, we
hold fun events like an annual Iron Chef
competition for our high school
cooking classes. We add the
winning meal to our menu
for the next school year.
If we’re going to posi-
tively affect the health of our
children, and our children’s
children, then we must demand
the following actions:
n Offer free breakfast and lunch
to all students. Healthy school meals
should be a birthright in the United
n Make school meals a public health
initiative and equate healthy school food
with long-term health.
n Raise the federal reimbursement
rate for lunch by $1.00, with a sliding
scale based on local demographics.
n Raise the dietary guidelines to
ensure that, for example, chicken
nuggets, tater tots, chocolate milk, and
canned fruit cocktail isn’t a reimbursable
meal. Eliminate highly processed and
nonnutritional foods from school meals.
n Promote fresh fruits, vegetables, and
n Institute farm-to-school programs
and hands-on cooking and gardening
n Dedicate federal funds to rebuild
n Provide federal funding for culinary
“boot camps” to train school food
service staff to cook real food.
We need to make the health of our
children and our food supply a priority.
Perhaps, just perhaps, if we do all this
we might save our children and the
health of the planet as well. EL
Bocarsly, M. E., Powell, E. S., Avena,
N. M., & Hoebel, B. G. (2010). High-fructose corn syrup causes characteristics of obesity in rats: Increased
body weight, body fat, and triglyceride
levels. Pharmacology, Biochemistry, and
Behavior, 97( 1), 101–106. doi: 10.1016/
Brownell, K. D., & Warner, K. E. (2009).
The perils of ignoring history: Big tobacco
played dirty and millions died. How
similar is big food? The Millbank Quarterly, 87( 1), 259–294.
CDC. (2011). Diabetes fact sheet. Atlanta,
GA: Author. Retrieved from www.cdc
Gandhi, R., & Snedeker, S. M. (2000).
Consumer concerns about hormones in food
(Fact sheet #37). Ithaca, NY: Cornell Uni-
versity Sprecher Institute for Comparative
Cancer Research. Retrieved from http://
Harvard Medical School Office of Public
Affairs. (2005). Fried food eaten away from
home creates fatter kids (News release).
Boston: Author. Retrieved from http://
National Family Farm Coalition. (n.d.) Food,
Inc. and Fresh. Washington, DC: Author.
Retrieved from www.nffc.net/Learn/
USDA. (2011). Commodity programs.
Washington, DC: Author. Retrieved from
Wallis, C. (2007, September 6). Hyper
kids? Cut out the preservatives. Time.
Retrieved from www.time.com/health/
Ann Cooper is director of nutrition services for Boulder Valley School District in
Colorado and author of Lunch Lessons:
Changing the Way We Feed Our
Children (Harper, 2007); ann@chefann