Mar 19, 2020

COVID-19 and School Meals | Resources and Response

Much like our organization and industry, I'm sure most of you are scrambling to create some semblance of order in our new realities. The COVID-19 pandemic is affecting so many aspects of our lives, and just when we think we have a handle on it, there’s another twist. 

Right now, our school food service professionals are on the front lines of this crisis. They’re working very long hours, creating makeshift cafeterias, and ensuring that our most vulnerable populations have food and nourishment. We are incredibly grateful for their service to our country.

In the United States, there are 50 million students enrolled in our public school system, and 30 million kids rely on school cafeterias for their daily meals. School closures impact families who depend on school meals for nourishment, which are predominantly people of color and households struggling to make ends meet.

The Chef Ann Foundation (CAF) is providing national support where it’s needed, and right now school districts are scrambling just to meet the needs of their new remote feeding programs. We have developed a COVID-19 & School Food: Resources & Support webpage with links to our partner districts’ remote feeding plans, along with topline information about federal guidance during this time. In addition, we have links to partner sites that provide other information and helpful resources for school food programs.

We are all part of the solution in this challenging time. We are thankful for our partners and supporters who are alongside CAF during this season of unknowns. You are part of the important work of feeding our nation's children at school. Thank you for walking with us — in good times and hard times.

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Feb 12, 2020

2019 Impact on School Food

Kids in the Cafeteria
Kids in the Cafeteria

2019 was a big year for the Chef Ann Foundation - we celebrated a decade of working with school communities to help them serve healthier food to children across the country. We couldn’t have reached over 3.2 million kids in more than 11,800 schools without your dedication and support. Thank you for sharing in our mission and believing that every child deserves healthy food every day.

Our programs are the heart and soul of what we do. Through our four major programs, we are able to equip school food professionals, parents, healthy food advocates and more with the tools they need to implement healthier, scratch-cooked food in schools.

Salad Bars to Schools

In 2019, we granted 223 salad bars to schools across the country in partnership with United Fresh Start Foundation and Whole Kids Foundation—bringing our total number of salad bars granted to 5,641!

"The salad bar has made it much easier to meet the meal pattern requirements while still encouraging student choices," said Emily Cena, Salad Bars to Schools grantee and Food Service Director for Ramona Unified School District, CA.

School Food Institute

The nation’s only personal learning platform for school food professionals dedicated to cook from scratch operations launched three new courses: Plant Forward, Ingredients for Healthier Kids, and Sustainable Lunchrooms. We also translated every course into Spanish! Click here for our translator’s take on bridging language barriers in school kitchens.

Get Schools Cooking

We’re entering the final stages of our very first cohort’s 3-year program. These 2016 GSC districts— Bellingham Public Schools (WA), Buford City Schools (GA), Passaic School District ( NJ), and Watertown Public Schools (MA)—have introduced new scratch-cooked recipes, installed salad bars, added new vendors to procure local products, eliminated highly-processed items from their menus, and so much more.

Transitioning to a scratch cooking model takes effort and time. “This isn’t going to happen overnight,” said Bellingham Food Service Director Patrick Durgan when we caught up with him earlier this year. “Since we’ve started making some of these changes, the response has been positive.”

The Lunch Box

Our free tools and resources were downloaded over 18,000 times in 2019; the Food Cost Projection worksheet is one of our long-standing most popular downloads. We also registered  4,468 new users in 2019—a marked increase, and a good indicator of the rise of scratch cooking in schools.

Real School Food Challenge Goes National

In 2019, our fundraising and awareness event went national! Chefs around the country crafted and added a USDA-compliant school meal to their menus during the month of October. Proceeds from each restaurant benefited the Chef Ann Foundation and were matched dollar-for-dollar thanks to our sponsors. We also partnered with StarChefs to debut five recipes at the International Chefs Congress in Brooklyn, NY, where former Rising Star-turned-school chef Mihoko Obunai won first place for her Japanese chicken curry.

Spreading the Word on Scratch Cooking in Schools

We had many opportunities to spread the word about scratch cooking in schools, from the AFHK Parent Workshop in Denver, CO to the Healthy Kids Collaborative (hosted by the Culinary Institute of America) in Napa, CA. CAF was also accepted into the Food System 6 accelerator program, where we collaborated with tech and ag leaders in the Bay Area. 

Kids Cooking Competition
Kids Cooking Competition
Boys Voting on New Recipe
Boys Voting on New Recipe
Girls Loving the Salad Bar
Girls Loving the Salad Bar

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Nov 18, 2019

Featured Salad Bar Program: El Monte City School District

We recently donated a salad bar to El Monte City School District in California. The Food Service Director applied for the Salad Bars to Schools grant in 2017, and this is the second year that all 14 schools have used the bars. Below, we have included an interview with the Food Service Director from this district. 

District Preparation 

How did you prepare your district to receive and begin implementing salad bars? 

Before we received our salad bars, we trained all of our employees on appropriate stocking protocols, how to cut up fresh fruit and vegetables, and the overall appearance of the salad bar. 

Did your staff need additional support? 

No, at El Monte City Schools, our staff are all trained cooks with ServSafe certifications. We did allot three additional labor hours for each one of the schools to fully incorporate the salad bars. This necessitated a new position at each site, ultimately creating 14 new jobs within our community. 

How did you prepare your students for their first day using the salad bar? 

Principals took on the responsibility of talking to students about how to go through the salad bar line. They explained how the salad bar is not a fast process, students should take their time. They can choose what they want but they need to be sure to eat what they choose. Every one of our schools also did a mock walkthrough with the salad bars before the full implementation day to get students and teachers used to the flow.

Overcoming Challenges

Do you have any advice for new Salad Bar recipients on how to manage excess food waste? 

My advice is to stock the salad bar a lot at the beginning of the week with 8 or 9 choices, then you use the leftovers as the week goes on so that there are no leftovers for the weekend. Throughout the week we monitor what kids like and don’t like, to see what's leftover and take that into consideration for future orders. I also rely on my production records to manage waste and track popular options.

Did you experience increased food costs? If so how did it impact your program?

Running our salad bar program has only temporarily increased our overall food cost. We are able to get most of our fresh produce through our USDA Commodity Dollars, which helps us save money. Knowing how to rework our commodity dollars is crucial. In January, I will be shifting our percentages away from spending those dollars on frozen fruits and vegetables to fresh options. Our program is really rocking now, so I will be putting more of my USDA Commodity Dollars towards fresh items for the salad bars.

How has your labor changed, if at all? 

The only change we have had to make is the addition of a few more hours to our delivery driver's workday. We prefer to take the salad bar supplies out separately so that we maximize freshness. Ultimately it hasn’t been a lot of hours but we have had to add a few. 

Are there any other program successes you would like to share?

Some of our schools celebrate when all of their students have perfect attendance. On these academic achievement days, I’ve asked the principals to let me plan the food, and make it a special lunch. We will usually have a big outdoor barbeque and I get out the salad bar as a feature for the special day. It’s a great way to work with the principals to get kids interested in eating healthy. On these days we see great participation, usually around 97 percent! 

It's also been amazing to see the little kids in kindergarten come through the salad bar. They say it's just like when they go out to eat, like going out to a restaurant. Overall, we have seen our participation increase and kids are eating healthy, so it’s really a win-win situation all around!

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