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Lunch Lady Boot Camp

By Madeline Holler |

lunch lady boot camp cook for americaAfter a celebrity chef’s school lunch makeover program faded from TV last spring, we sort of stopped talking about school lunches. “Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution” attempted to change the way the unhealthiest city in America ate with most of the focus on the school and the stubborn lunch ladies he had to win over in order to make the change.

It was pretty good TV, what with big reveals such as the true contents of chicken nuggets, but too many of the subjects were secretly eating deep-fried chimichangas or rolling their eyes at green salads. The whole endeavor felt somewhat hopeless.

But it shouldn’t have. Before Oliver came to revolutionize the U.S. and after he left, others have worked to improve school lunches. One ogranization, Cook for America, is leading lunch lady boot camps. The response from cafeteria workers, according to this LA Times piece, couldn’t be more different than the frozen food enthusiasts on Oliver’s show.

Cook for America founders Andrea Martin and Kate Adamick have been training lunch ladies (and gentlemen) since 2006. And more than hounding them into using fresh ingredients and fewer French fries, the two chefs (one a former lawyer another a former New York City school teacher) are also teaching knife skills, time management, history of school food and menu planning. They talk politics, marketing, child psychology and nutrition. Their trainees couldn’t be more into it.

Whereas on Oliver’s show, there was a great love of the frozen bits of meat, one lunch lady interviewed said she can’t stand the smell of frozen hamburger patties and that she loves the idea of serving something she’s proud of.

The expectations of school lunch programs are incredible — meals that cost around $2.70 — and somehow it’s supposed to be healthy and appealing and tasty. For too long, food experts had been kept out of production side, which is where lunch lady boot camps come in. Sure, most cafeteria workers aren’t trained in much more than food handling safety, but it’s not as if they can’t learn. It’s not as if they don’t want to.

The food revolution in the lunchroom is slow. But maybe it’s getting there.

What do you think? High hopes for school lunches or still too dicey for your kids?

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About Madeline Holler


Madeline Holler

Madeline Holler is a writer, journalist, and blogger. She has written for Babble since the site launched in 2006. Her writing has appeared in various other publications both online and in print, including Salon and True/Slant (now Forbes). A native of the Midwest, Madeline lives, writes, and parents in Southern California, where she's raising two daughters and a son. Read bio and latest posts → Read Madeline's latest posts →

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0 thoughts on “Lunch Lady Boot Camp

  1. [...] Cook for America recently inaugurated another program intended to train “lunch ladies” to prepare healthier lunches. [...]

  2. [...] Cook for America recently inaugurated another program intended to train “lunch ladies” to prepare healthier lunches. [...]

  3. [...] Drop and Give Me 20 (Grapes!). Lunch Lady Boot Camp [...]

  4. Alejandra Mahoney says:

    I have seen this program in action. The chefs are great and the school lunch staff is so excited to try all of the new recipes. Liz Powell the food service director has been so open to all of the new ideas. They are now purchasing 80 percent of their produce from local farmers. Way to go Santa Maria-Bonita school district!!

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