According to MSNBC, with childhood obesity rates rising, there’s a call for healthier food in school cafeterias. That means a lot of lunch ladies have to learn how to cook, not just reheat. In the last few decades, school cafeterias went from serving fresh food, cooked from scratch, to serving frozen food that’s taken out of the package and heated up in a microwave. This food was supposed to streamline the school lunch process. Instead of lunch ladies getting to work at four in the morning and chopping and cooking all day, they could show up, open some boxes, set a timer and be done. However, all that processed food is high is sugar, fat, salt and chemicals and it’s a big reason why almost half of the kids in North America are overweight or obese.
So now schools are getting back to basics. They’re re-teaching lunch ladies how to cook, and buying fresh, local vegetables and meat to serve the kids. In Colorado cafeteria workers are taking “Scratch Cooking” classes, where they learn knife skills, baking and other cooking techniques. All over the country “cooking bootcamps” are booming - teaching lunch ladies new culinary skills. Kate Adamick is a food consultant in New York; she came up with the bootcamp idea a few years ago. She says demand is so high they can barely keep up. She’s having a hard time hiring enough trainers for the new cooking classes. Culinary schools are even sending their grads to train in school kitchens instead of hotels and restaurants.
Changing school lunches is an uphill battle. The US Department of Agriculture makes it easy for schools to buy pre-packaged, processed food, but buying healthy, natural food is a complicated and difficult process. Even if schools do get fresh ingredients, most cafeterias aren’t even set up for actual cooking. They don’t have produce sinks, or enough cold storage to keep food fresh. That doesn’t mean the lunch ladies are backing down. Most of them are thrilled to finally be providing good food for the kids they serve.
If your kid’s school lunches haven’t changed, go to LetsMove.gov and click on the “chef’s move to schools” banner. It’ll show you how to get a great local chef to come to your school and cook healthy nutritious dishes.