by Marion Nestle
Apr 11 2011

How to get involved: school food

I am starting to put together a resource list for anyone who would like to advocate for better school food.

I began by asking Margo Wootan, of Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) how she answers questions about how to help schools improve their food.  Her advice is to visit your local school (CSPI has a ToolKit for this):

  • Meet with principal, teachers, parents, food service directors and staff
  • Talk about how to encourage stronger wellness policies for nutrition and physical activity
  • Focus on healthier meals and removal of less healthful items from vending machines

It’s also useful to work on national policies to make it easier for schools to serve healthier meals (CSPI has guidelines and resources for this).

I also know about a few groups that are working on school food issues.  Some have published guides to getting started or other useful materials.  These range in scope from local to national, and from hands on to policy.:

Do you know of other resources to help beginners get started on school food advocacy?  Please send.  My plan is to post a revised version as a Q and A.  Thanks!

  • Maqrzipan Souffle

    Sssshhh! We’re undercover… Would like to join the Food Parade of Edible Art in Schools.

    Sincerely, Marzipan Souffle

  • As a writer who blogs daily about kids and food, with an emphasis on school food reform, and as someone working in my own Houston district to improve school food, I’ve looked at a LOT of school food reform websites. I think by far the best resource on the web for getting started in this area is, (, which stands for Parents Educators & Advocates Connection for Healthy School Food. It was recently started by Dana Woldow, a nine-year veteran who has reformed school food in SF and it has everything you need to get started, along with a realistic view about what school food reform really requires – namely hard work AND money.

  • Fern Glazer

    Thank you so much for this. So many if us want to take action, but don’t know where to begin. I will pass this on in my community, for sure.

  • Melinda
  • Vanessa Berenstein


    It’s funny that you put this up right when I am beginning a project in Mexico to change a school’s lunch program and create a garden. Thanks for the links! In my research I also found this web page that has various resources for teachers:

  • Let’s Move Salad Bars to Schools is a comprehensive grassroots public health effort to mobilize and engage stakeholders at the local, state and national level to support salad bars in schools. Our vision is to significantly increase salad bars in schools across the country until every child has the choice of healthy fruits and vegetables every day at school. Let’s Move Salad Bars to Schools is an initiative of the Food Family Farming Foundation, National Fruit and Vegetable Alliance, United Fresh Produce Association Foundation, and Whole Foods Market to support First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move initiative. The goal of the Initiative is to fund and award 6000 salad bars over the next three years.

  • Doc Mudd

    Hmmm. A concerned individual visiting their local school, meeting with a principal and/or school staff to scold and lecture them how to do their jobs…well, that should have a interesting outcome.

    Make a full day of it. Maybe on the way home you could stop at a transmission repair shop and tell the guys there how to fix gearboxes? I’m sure they, too, will be grateful for your input. Maybe stop at the Post Office and give them a few pointers, as well. Lord knows, they could use all the instruction they can get.

    You may want to bring Margo Wootan along to share some of the accolades you will receive? And, credit where crediit is due; tell ’em all Marion Nestle put you up to it.

  • Tim White

    Observer article on the threat to Oliver’s school food campaign – and a subsequent piece on the educational difference it makes –
    cites some resources (UK but may be of use)

  • KD

    What about thoughts on banning homemade lunches like the Chicago school has done:

  • KD
  • Emily

    As a potential teacher at a brand new school that’s still working out it’s approach to the school cafeteria, I think this is really interesting.

    Here are our constraints: (1) Very limited personnel to work on this. (Basically, it would be an additional task on top of everyone’s already full-time-plus job, as we launch the new school.) (2) A target full cost of lunch of $2.50-$3.00 per meal.

    The usual approach around here is to outsource it to the one cafeteria management company that’s got all the USDA subsidies figured out and can therefore meet the cost target.

    I’d love to be able to propose something with a stronger focus on healthy, local food — what are the solutions that meet our constraints? (I think the dream would be to find a company to outsource it to that could meet the target through local sourcing of fresh foods — does that exist anywhere in the country?)

  • Andy
  • Jenny

    What Bettina didn’t mention in her comment above is that she has compiled a set of interviews from school food reformers on her website that answer the question of how to get involved. It’s located on one of the permanent tabs on her website, and is very helpful:

  • Joe

    What I find fascinating about school nutrition is that since the program began in the 1940’s it has had as its cornerstone how nutritious the meals were and are. I have a number of friends who work in school foodservice and they echo the same sentiment that school food is nutritious as well as delicious. Why then does it need fixing?

    The program is micromanaged by government guidelines and funded with government dollars. That in and of itself is a panacea according to some. Yet the program is routinely lambasted for serving low quality even unhealthy meals. The low quality is about par for the governments course though.

    What the school nutrition program needs is not more advocates it needs competition which is what improves quality in the marketplace. The problem is that market style competition and government monopoly are incongruent.

    The second biggest reform needed in school nutrition is to dispense with the over regulation. This micromanagement of every nutrient children eat is what has resulted in foods that meet the requirements but are otherwise unrecognizable.

  • Here’s a dynamite page from the folks who actually fix the food- MANY good ideas!

  • Suzanne

    Doc Mudd –

    Take your trolling elsewhere, please. Most of us are here to learn from one another and Dr. Nestle.

  • Hi Marion,

    Great list. As you’ll see in my recent post for Great Schools, there’s a lot of overlap — and some additional ideas as well for parents who want to overhaul school food:

    You’ll find more on my site too, Lettuce Eat Kale:

    There are so many strong programs/resources out there now. I look forward to seeing your updated list.

  • Joseph Docu

    Parental involvement is consistently the factor that makes schools improve. Marks, sports, food. Get yourself involved (and when it comes to food, be prepared to be appalled.

    Also, Doc Mudd, take your trolling elsewhere. This is a very high quality fact-intensive website. Kudos to Dr Nestle, who certainly has more valuable information to share with us than you ever do.

  • Linda Duffy

    One of the worst things you can do to a child’s developing brain is to deprive it of essential fatty acids. Many school programs target eliminating fats. Where do you thing essential fatty acids come from?

    For a good source of childhood nutrition, check out

  • Cathy Richards

    Our school district has a great Health Promoting Schools committee, with a website full of resources.

    (PS. Bettina — love your lunch tray site. I think Marion pointed us foodpolitic-ers your way sometime last year)

  • Thanks so much for this post. The thought of banning homemade lunches just boils my blood.

  • Patrick S

    There’s a good program in Australia that’s growing year on year called the ‘Stephanie Alexander Kitchen Garden Program’.

    Check this link out

    Basically it sets up a garden and kitchen in primary and high schools to teach kids about how to grow and cook healthy food, but also aims to provide a unique space for integrated learning. For example some schools run science classes in the garden to learn about soil ecology, plant physiology etc.

    Very good stuff.

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  • Thanks for writing about this. I’d like to recommend Project Lunch for their work on school lunch reform. They are working on a set of assessment tools that schools can use to see where they currently rank on a series of standards (health/nutrition/ecological impact etc) and have standards and a rubric that they can use to take things to the next level and improve. They also have toxic lunch cards that can be displayed to show the chemicals that are present in lots of our foods: Very compelling…

    And Sarah Henry recently wrote a really nice article for about people involved in school lunch reform and how to go about making change (a disclaimer – it features me, but that’s not the point…) Here is the link to that:

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