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CAF team member Anneliese Tanner recently published her findings from surveying food professionals. The results revealed the types of challenges the COVID-19 pandemic presented for schools districts that greatly impacted the type of food they served to their students. It also more clearly indicated the types of financial implications and the state of scratch cooking in schools in the wake of Covid-19.

CAF team member Anneliese Tanner recently published her findings from surveying food professionals. The results revealed the types of challenges the COVID-19 pandemic presented for schools districts that greatly impacted the type of food they served to their students. It also more clearly indicated the types of financial implications and the state of scratch cooking in schools in the wake of Covid-19.

Background and Implementation of the Survey

The Chef Ann Foundation (CAF) surveyed school food professionals to understand the financial implications and the state of scratch cooking in schools in the wake of Covid-19. The survey was sent out between April and July 2021 to school nutrition professionals across the country via email, social media and partner networks. School food professionals from 63 districts in 26 states, representing 1.2 million students, completed the survey. Forty seven of the responses (75%) were from districts with less than 10,000 students.

CAF had heard anecdotally that schools were serving more processed, packaged food during the pandemic, wanted to confirm if this statement was true and, if so, understand why. CAF also wanted to understand what districts were planning for their menus in school year 2021-22 to see if the concessions made during the pandemic would remain. Having an idea of where districts are and what they are planning, grounded in data, will allow CAF to provide school districts support in recovering their menus from an extremely challenging year. CAF had also hoped to gather data to make the case for extending universal free meals for school year 2021-22, which happened while the survey was open.

The Findings

Fewer school districts were scratch cooking during the pandemic, and their utilization of USDA Foods reflects the decrease in meals served and a switch to heat-and-serve meals. From space constraints, labor shortages and safety concerns, the pandemic impacted a school district’s ability to scratch cook.

In Conclusion

The pandemic provided the opportunity for the public to truly understand the vital role that school food service plays in the national food system, brought to light the prevalence of food insecurity, or potential food insecurity in our country as well as the public’s expectation that the government is responsible for ensuring that the basic need of food is met for all children. Expanding access to school meals reduces childhood food insecurity, and the extension of universal free meals for the 2021-22 school year is a step in the right direction. Universal free meals must be permanently extended to ensure increased, sustainable and equitable food access for all students, beyond the pandemic.


We then must go further to ensure that the increased access to the best quality, freshest, nutritious meals that consider environmental impact, fair labor, and equity are scratch cooked. School districts have plans to increase the amount of scratch and speed scratch cooking offered on their menus. To support their endeavors, providing funds for equipment and staff training are paramount. Including definitions for scratch and speed scratch cooking in the CNR as well as a method for determining the amount of scratch cooked items on a menu will create alignment among districts around scratch cooking and provide a foundation for moving forward. Our nation’s children and families depend on school meals, and we must provide school districts the support they need to offer the type of food that all students deserve.


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