In Massachusetts, Project Bread has helped to improve school meals with their Chefs in Schools Initiative. Through Chefs in Schools, Project Bread has brought professional chefs to schools to work with school nutrition staff, while staying within the school’s budget, to create healthier meals that students will enjoy. Studies that Project Bread has done with the Harvard School of Public Health in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, American Journal of Preventive Medicine, and JAMA Pediatrics demonstrate that bringing chefs to schools can increase the consumption of healthy foods by students and reduce school lunch waste. Since its inception in three Boston Public Schools, the Chefs in Schools Initiative has served over 33,000 students in 48 schools.
One Chefs in Schools partnership has been with Beverly Public Schools, where 1 in 4 students are eligible for free or reduced price school meals. Through this program, Chef Kirk Conrad has worked with the school nutrition staff, including training and teaching healthy cooking techniques and new recipe ideas from Project Bread’s Let’s Cook Healthy School Meals cookbook. Within the Beverly Public School district, Chef Kirk visited seven schools two days per week over five months to implement positive changes.
Nancy Antolini, Director of Nutrition Services at Beverly Public Schools, has been very happy with the changes Chef Kirk brought to the school meal program. Fresh omelets are now made to order at Beverly High School. A deli bar introduced to Briscoe Middle School was popular from the beginning. Within a week of initiating the deli bar, over 100 sandwiches were made in a day for excited students. Foods made from scratch in Beverly has increased from ~50% to 70%. They now make their own sauces and condiments, such as barbecue sauce. None of the meats or proteins are diverted for processing, and they are all prepared from scratch, including taco meat and tuna fish salad. Antolini notes that the cost of cooking from scratch is not more than the cost of processed foods, and sometimes it costs less.
Antolini has found that bringing in a chef has brought fresh and new ideas for her school nutrition program. Staff can sometimes be more receptive to suggestions made from an individual outside of the school. Children were excited to see and talk to a chef, who is involved with their school meals. Students were also enthusiastic about new and tasty changes to their school meals.
Bringing professional chefs to schools can generate enthusiasm for staff and for students, and can increase the availability, appeal, and consumption of healthier school meals. Learn more about Project Bread’s Chefs in Schools program from their website.
-by Annabelle Ho, Graduate Assistant at The John C. Stalker Institute of Food and Nutrition