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Can we change school lunches?

by Catarina Rivera

Jamie Oliver has put a spotlight on reforming school food with his reality TV show, “Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution.” His second season finds him attempting to change school lunches in Los Angeles and encountering substantial opposition. At the end of the first episode, he hasn’t even been granted permission to film his show inside the schools.

Last season, he took Huntington, West Virginia by storm and succeeded in making many changes. But L.A. seems like Mt. Everest compared to West Virginia. Changing school food is a bureaucratic, daunting endeavor and requires encounters with the government, USDA, and the food industry. Is it ever possible?

One non-profit in New York City is proving that you can change school food and work within the system. Wellness in the Schools (WITS) operates a program called “Cook for Kids” that partners with the New York City Department of Education’s Office of School Food. The program places trained culinary school graduates as chefs in residence in public school kitchens. They work hand in hand with cafeteria workers to create meals from scratch.

The organization looks for alternative food sources, such as leftover food from restaurants and food sourced from local farms. This program provides a model for changing school food and also utilizes local talent in the process. Other districts could work with culinary schools to place chefs in their schools’ kitchens. However, food sourcing is a difficult process and I wonder how many schools WITS can operate in without stretching their resources.

Individual schools can also serve as examples, such as Chef Bobo of the Calhoun School who has written cookbooks and altered the palates of the kids he works with. One example from the charter school sector is Harlem Children’s Zone’s Promise Academy, which offers freshly made lunches and bans unhealthy snacks. They also organize a farmer’s market and offer healthy cooking classes.

While changing school food is a daunting and complicated process, leading organizations and schools offer hope. If these programs expand and others copy their lead, reform can occur from the ground up. Creative solutions and passionate individuals can always drive change.

To learn more about Catarina, visit her website..


Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are solely those
of the author and should not be understood to be shared by Being Latino, Inc.


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About Adriana Villavicencio

Dr. Adriana Villavicencio is the youngest child of Ecuadorian immigrants. She has moved 29 times in her life, taking her on a journey from California to Bangalore, India, and New York City, where she recently earned a Ph.D. in Education Leadership and works as a Research Associate at New York University. An avid traveler, Adriana has collected experiences in four different continents and 16 different countries. But as a former high school English teacher, some of her fondest memories are those of her brilliant and brilliantly funny students in Brooklyn and Oakland. Adriana has contributed to several publications including the Daily News and, and is a managing editor for the Journal of Equity in Education. She earned a B.A. in English and an M.A. in English Education at Columbia University, and currently serves on the board of Columbia’s Latino Alumni Association (LAACU). She enjoys scary movies with red vines, Sauvignon Blanc, and her Maltese dog, Napoleon.

To learn more about Adriana’s education consulting company, please visit

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author and should not be understood to be shared by Being Latino, Inc.


  1. The irony about school lunches is that back in the day, before we were so health conscious, the school lunches were actually more nutritious than now in this more healthier world. I know, the canned veggies, weren’t great, but they were VEGGIES, not fried junk foods. I wasn’t a big fan of the hamburg gravy this or rice and stew that, that was served at my school on various days but hey, it wasn’t fried everything that made you only hungrier. You ate substance, and were generally filled, ready to go. Here we are in this healthy era, and our kids are growing up more obese than ever.

  2. It is also interesting that changes can be made in very wealthy school districts and very poor school districts with the cooperation of parents. But the middle-class parents will fight tooth-and-nail to keep things the way they are. God-forbid if little Johnny can’t bring his favorite treats to school! That would be infringing on his civil rights! Wealthy parents do everything they can to make sure their kids have every advantage over the competition, and poor parents either are working too hard to resist the changes or maybe feel happy that their children are being fed during the day, whether the food is decent or not. But middle-class parents have a certain breed of stay-at-home moms whose highest interest is the happiness of their own individual children, regardless of what’s in the best interest of the other school children. School board politicians know that improving school food policies is the right thing to do, but they are afraid to piss off their constituents–these middle-class moms! Sounds like I am exaggerating, but I have seen it first-hand. Has anyone else observed this phenomenon in their middle-class school districts?

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