School Lunches From Scratch


Cooking from scratch used to be a given in this country. In order to eat a meal, fresh ingredients had to be gathered up, measured out and cooked with a certain amount of finesse, not to mention a pinch of love and a dash of care. Somewhere along the line, however, we traded our slower home-cooked meals in for fast-food restaurants and pre-made frozen food in the grocery aisles.

As Michael Pollan writes in Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation

The ads have also helped manufacture a sense of panic about time, depicting families so rushed and harried in the morning that there is no time to make breakfast, not even to pour some milk over a bowl of cereal. No, the only hope is to munch on a cereal bar (iced with synthetic “milk” frosting) in the bus or car. (Tell me: Why can’t these hassled families set their alarm clocks, like, ten minutes earlier?!)”

Unfortunately, this trend has expanded past the home kitchen and into our schools, where many of our children are now being served what could best be described as uninspired rations of overly processed food-like product. It’s cheaper and quicker to prepare but with the steady rise of childhood obesity the cost of this convenience has become too high.

With Congress returning to session and set to vote on the Child Nutrition Reauthorization (a set of rules that will affect the type of food that our kids are served) certain private programs, which have shown preliminary success within individual schools, warrant consideration.

One such program, implemented by the non-profit Interact for Health (IFH), which serves 20 counties spanning Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana,promotes healthy living through grants, education and policy. They aim to combat childhood obesity by bringing nutrition back to school lunches.

Interact for Health’s solution can be summed up in three simple words, COOKING FROM SCRATCH!

The program began a wide-range assessment of each school district conducted by Cook for America (CFA), another organization dedicated to bringing real food and cooking to the places it’s needed most.This is followed by a culinary training, which includes teaching the public school kitchen staff topics such as culinary math, basic knife skills, recipe development, batch cooking, menu planning and time management. 

In a recent article in SoapboxMedia, program officer Jaime Love explains that menu planning is a particularly important piece of the puzzle, with every cook being sent home with a binder of 100-plus recipes they can use in schools. Participating schools also use these fresh food menus when writing up their purchasing orders for the upcoming school year.

The final stage of the Interact for Health program hopes to ensure implementation with a three- year follow-up commitment to make regular follow up visits as the school year continues.

Although the program is still in its preliminary stages, according to one of the participating schools there have already been notable changes in eating habits with kids even choosing to eat Brussels sprouts. Not surprisingly the younger children seemed more open to the changes, which stands to reason when you consider that they are still developing the eating habits that will carry them through adulthood.

It’s important to remember that it can take up to 10 times to acquire a taste for a new food. With so many lower income school children eating breakfast, lunch and sometimes even dinner at school, our education system has a responsibility to make their eating habits as healthy as possible, something that cooking wholesome from scratch seems to do quite well.

As stated in the same SoapboxMedia article by Superintendent Brewer from one of the participating schools:

The goal is to get our kids to understand the difference between instant and delayed gratification.

A worthy goal! And one that Wellness Warriors stand behind—especially when considering policy changes regarding school lunches.

Image via SoapBox Media Cincinnati 



Read all articles by Juniper Briggs



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