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Why Scratch Cooking?

Over the past few decades, school food has become increasingly more processed and less healthy. Major food companies have entered the space, dominating the industry and providing overly processed foods with tons of filler ingredients, preservatives, and artificial ingredients.

This processed diet and poor nutrition has a direct effect on health. Obesity rates in both children and teenagers have increased in the last decade. At an 18.5% obesity rate, that’s 13.7 million obese kids & teenagers eating highly processed, high-calorie meals in school every day. Additional diet-related conditions are also on the rise, like type 2 diabetes (a 4.8% increase since 2002).

31 million school lunches are served each day, which creates an opportunity to improve nutrition across the country. By cooking with fresh, whole ingredients, schools can provide delicious, nutritious meals that directly combat diet-related medical problems. To learn more about the benefits of scratch cooking, click here.

How We Help

Many schools would like to serve healthier food, but lack the operational knowledge to make the transition. That’s where we come in. With the right knowledge and tools, schools can transform their kitchens and lunchrooms to support student health, wellbeing, and academic success.

The Lunch Box is the largest online resource for scratch cooking in schools. Our mission is to provide school district administrators, food service directors, and their teams with the tools and resources they need to serve healthy, delicious, scratch-cooked food to every student, every day. Our resources are free to use and include scalable and downloadable recipes, procurement tools, financial tools, marketing materials, and much more.

Our Goals

  • Support and motivate schools with relevant, up-to-date operational content, and resources that enable them to serve healthy, scratch-cooked meals
  • Educate food service professionals on the programs and opportunities that solve common problems experienced by school food service teams
  • Provide schools with tools for marketing and promoting their lunch program and healthy eating

Principles of School Food Change

The Lunch Box shares best practices from districts across the United States and provides a wide range of in-depth tools and resources to help with menu creation, financial management, procurement, marketing, and engagement strategies. Our resources cover five key areas that contribute to systemic change in school food operations:

  • Food
  • Finance
  • Facilities
  • Human Resources
  • Marketing

By categorizing our resources and support into 5 categories, we can tackle each element specifically. This website is organized by major topic, but here’s a quick view at how our current content fits into the five key areas:

Principles of School Food Change

The Lunch Box shares best practices from districts across the United States and provides a wide range of in-depth tools and resources to help with menu creation, financial management, procurement, marketing, and engagement strategies. Our resources cover five key areas that contribute to systemic change in school food operations:

  • Food
  • Finance
  • Facilities
  • Human Resources
  • Marketing

By categorizing our resources and support into 5 categories, we can tackle each element specifically. This website is organized by major topic, but here’s a quick view at how our current content fits into the five key areas:

Food Finance Facilities Human Resources Marketing
Recipes & Menus Fiscal Management Equipment Management Assessment & Next Steps Marketing Your Program
General Procurement Menu Costing Production Models School Breakfast Lunchroom Education
Sustainable Procurement Commodity Foods Cost & Value Central Kitchens Supporting Research Salad Bars
Wellness Policy & Smart Snacks Central Kitchens Finance School Breakfast Central Kitchens Project Produce Case Studies
Bulk Milk Salad Bars Finance Salad Bars Professional Development School Breakfast
Get Schools Cooking (CAF Program) School Breakfast Fiscal Health Salad Bars
Salad Bars to Schools (CAF Program)
Sustainable Lunchrooms
Salad Bars
School Breakfast

Program Impact

The Lunch Box provides many digital resources and tools for school food professionals. Online registration also helps us track impact and support funding initiatives.

23,012

site users registered

103,131

downloaded resources

5,569

school districts registered

Program Impact

The Lunch Box provides many digital resources and tools for school food professionals. Online registration also helps us track impact and support funding initiatives.

23,012

site users registered

103,131

downloaded resources

5,569

school districts registered

Our Story So Far

2000
2025
2000

The A-Ha Moment!

In the early 2000s, Chef Ann Cooper and her school food colleagues began sharing their experiences and knowledge about how to transform school lunch from processed, heat-and-serve meals to healthy, tasty meals.

2007

Early Development

Chef Ann secured funding to develop The Lunch Box website by 2007, and founded the Chef Ann Foundation in 2009. The site officially launched in 2010, and included the largest database of school-specific materials on healthy cooking.

2017

The Evolution

Since the first version of The Lunch Box, we’ve added video tutorials, 100+ new USDA-compliant recipes, Farm to School resources, Plant Forward materials and much much more. We also launched the School Food Institute - a set of online courses built around the content found on The Lunch Box.

2020

New Site + New Resources

Relaunched in 2020, the newest version of the site includes many new resources and tools, as well as fully updated content. Check out our Sustainable Lunchrooms case study, 30+ new plant-based recipes, or brand new Central Kitchen walkthrough.

2025

Vision for the Future

The Lunch Box will continue to push the envelope and offer new resources and operational content every year. We will always be a source of relevant, high-quality, and school-tested resources for school food change. If you have any suggestions, please contact us!

About Chef Ann Foundation

The Lunch Box is a program of the Chef Ann Foundation, a 501c(3) non-profit working to provide school communities with the tools, training, resources, and funding to create healthier food and redefine lunchroom environments. To date, we’ve reached more than 11,000 schools and 3.2 million kids with healthy school programming.

About Chef Ann Foundation

The Lunch Box is a program of the Chef Ann Foundation, a 501c(3) non-profit working to provide school communities with the tools, training, resources, and funding to create healthier food and redefine lunchroom environments. To date, we’ve reached more than 11,000 schools and 3.2 million kids with healthy school programming.

FAQ

Have a specific question about our work? Check out these frequently asked questions!

FAQ

Have a specific question about our work? Check out these frequently asked questions!

Supporting Research

Want to learn more? Check out these significant research and case studies that outline the benefits of healthy school food programs. These resources can be especially helpful when discussing school food changes with school district administration and community stakeholders.

Supporting Research

Want to learn more? Check out these significant research and case studies that outline the benefits of healthy school food programs. These resources can be especially helpful when discussing school food changes with school district administration and community stakeholders.

Help The Lunch Box!

Please help us keep our tools & resources free for all users by registering here!

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