Working as a cook anywhere can be one of the most grueling jobs out there. Especially in school systems, when you’re often referred to as a “lunch lady.” It can be hard to feel proud of your job when kids toss out 35 percent of the healthy food you try to provide.

But who can blame the cook? Trying to balance mandates for healthier food and stick to a budget all while preparing lunch for hundreds of children (50 million in the U.S. alone) can be exhausting. Cooks and food service workers rarely receive the resources and training to feel like they can improve school lunches.

Fortunately, two female chefs created a program with a solution: empower the cooks in school kitchens to make creative, healthy food. Give them the resources, knowledge, and skills to make healthy lunches in schools all from scratch — and that’s exactly what Cook for America® does.

The program was founded by Kate Adamick and Andrea Martin who both have extensive experience as professional chefs and consulting school lunch programs.

Adamick was an attorney practicing law before she found her true passion in the culinary world. She wanted to help bring fresh lunches to children who were not getting them and start a movement to revolutionize school lunches and reawaken cooks’ passion for food. Their vision is to have every “food service worker” in school systems become an empowered chef who takes seriously how important their role in providing meals for millions of school children.

The Cook for America® Culinary Boot Camp teaches cooks everything doing the math for large meal preparation to proper knife skills. They even cover how to buy and prepare fresh ingredients for recipes like homemade lasagna or Aspen power bars.

 And more than just cooking healthy food for students, Adamick and Martin hope their new nutrition knowledge and cooking skills can be passed onto students as well. They call this new role Lunch Teachers.

“Kids don’t stop learning just because it’s the lunch hour. The Lunch Teachers® have an opportunity, and responsibility to teach children how wonderful real food is,” said Adamick. 

Accomplishing this takes some mythbusting. The biggest obstacle when it comes to ditching cellophane wrapped pizza of kid’s nightmares is that cooking from scratch is expensive.  

Yet school systems in places like America’s least obese state, Colorado, that have gone through Cook for America’s 5-day bootcamp have learned it can cost less. The benefits they’ve seen reach beyond just adding broccoli to the menu.

The magic of turning “lunch ladies” into empowered chefs can have a ripple effect. More nourished kids also means less trips to the nurse, more kids and families wanting to buy lunch investing in school lunch programs, and spreading word that “tomato paste” is not a vegetable.

It also means less pre-packaged mystery meat ending up in the trash cans and landfills. 

In other words, less of this…

Instead food like this.
Or this.
That doesn’t end up here, adding more to landfills and unnecessary work for others. 

Image: CAT

Which is good for everyone!


Defeat Poverty

How a Culinary Bootcamp Is Improving School Lunches

By Meghan Werft