Chefs have become some of the country’s most vocal advocates for tastier and healthier school lunches.
Perhaps you look back fondly on your school cafeteria lunches—more likely you’d rather forget. Well, things are changing. Chefs have become some of the country’s most vocal advocates for tastier and healthier school lunches, some 30 million of which are served across the US each academic day. In addition to testifying in front of Congress for higher nutrition standards, many chefs are doing ground-level work to improve the quality of lunches and educate students about what they eat.
“I’m focused on school lunch becoming part of the academic curriculum,” says Alice Waters, whose Edible Schoolyard Project has reached more than 5,500 schools globally, bringing food lessons to life through meals. In New London, Connecticut, former Noma head chef Daniel Giusti started Brigaid, a program that enlists chefs to run school cafeterias. “They don’t just impact the food but forge relationships with the students and the community,” he says. New York chef Bill Telepan first got involved with Wellness in the Schools a decade ago. He serves as executive chef for the organization, which partners with more than 40 chefs to revamp menus with more nutritious options at over 125 schools in New York, New Jersey, California and Florida.
Inspired by Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move! campaign, chefs Paul Kahan, Matthias Merges and others cofounded Pilot Light in Chicago in 2010. The group works with teachers to integrate what kids are taught in the classroom with what they eat for lunch, like studying fermentation methods through making kimchi. And Cathal Armstrong, who started Chefs as Parents to provide more wholesome lunches at a single school in Washington, DC, aims to expand across the city. “It took us 30 years to destroy school lunch,” he says. “It’ll take 30 years to build it back up.”