School Food Innovation Lab: A Collaborative Effort to Revolutionize School Food

By: Joan Chung

January 2019

This year, Wellness in the Schools will spearhead a truly collaborative effort to change the future of school food in this country. Wellness in the Schools, along with the Life Time Foundation, will kick off the School Food Innovation Lab (SFIL) this spring. SFIL will gather School Food Service Directors across the nation, as well as leaders of organizations in the school lunch space, to combine independent efforts in order to make greater change.

The school food landscape has seen significant changes over the years. Due to rising childhood obesity rates and, subsequently, a louder push for health initiatives, there has been greater scrutiny on the future of school food. In response, a number of nonprofits, for-profits, school districts, and other innovators have devised programs and tested groundbreaking models in schools across the country. As a result, scratch-cooked items are being incorporated into school cafeteria menus, edible gardens are cropping up all over the country, and nutrition education is being integrated into the school day. Yet, the question remains – how can we combine these independent efforts to better feed this upcoming generation? SFIL aims to address that very question.

The preliminary planning process has already begun, and the call to action has been sent out. Once participants are finalized, SFIL will officially begin with a two-day, in-person meeting in the summer, and then will be followed by three subsequent calls that will take place throughout the following year. WITS has engaged a facilitator to lead the participants in the discussions and to guide the team in devising a collaborative roadmap for systemic change.

After a year of planning and conversation, the team will produce a roadmap to implement programming of best practices in a “test” school district, as well as strategies for overcoming barriers to innovation. This pilot program will be put to the test for the 2020 – 2021 school year, and will be monitored and supported by the SFIL team.

The 31 million school children receiving school lunch deserve better, and nationwide reform cannot be fully achieved through a singular endeavor. Through a combined effort, and as a collective team, we will be able to make a sustainable and powerful change that transforms the school food landscape, one plate at a time.