The Challenge


How can we raise kids' awareness of the benefits of fresh food so they can make better choices? read the brief


Seed to Tray Education in Public Schools

We all know: School food service sucks. Kids don't get enough time outside. Families don't cook. Basic kitchen AND farming skills are being lost in a single generation. A problem? Yes. But not one without a beautifully integrated solution: Seed to Tray Education. In plain English: put kids in charge of their own school lunch!
The best kinds of educational opportunities integrate learning with solving a real-world problem. Kids are amazing, natural problem solvers. They also have all kinds of different abilities, different loves. But the beauty of what educators call "experiential education" is that it takes a child's unique set of abilities and skills and puts them to good use toward something real-world, something tangible... something like lunch.

The state of school food is currently a Frankensteinian nightmare of epic proportions. It's not just the hot Cheetos and strawberry milk. It's seemingly wholesome foods laden with food & flavor chemicals. Mashed potatoes with something called "shortening powder", hamburgers flavored with "thiamine hydrochloride" (and no, I didn't make that up).

Food service companies whine the day away: "We can't AFFORD to serve healthy meals, fresh produce is sooooo expensive."

Are your eyes rolling yet?

Why not try this experiment: let's put the freshest young brains on the planet in charge of their own lunch. Not just cooking it, but planning it, running it as a business. Being in charge in a world that doesn't give kids the chance to own anything except electronic gadgets.

I've worked with middle schoolers for years. I would bet, hands-down, if you told a group of 8th graders that they were now in charge of the cafeteria program and that they had $2.59 a meal to feed their fellow students, they would be more than up to the task. With a little more guidance and support, a group of 5th graders could source and cook for their younger schoolmates.

For High School students, I could see being on the “lunch crew” becoming a competitive program, something students can put on college applications and use to demonstrate interest in anything from environmental studies to a fast-track MBA program.

Work with your hands? You bet. School gardens can provide most of the produce, and the kids most inclined can be in charge of farm operations.

Math whiz? We have a job for you. Calculate food costs - you're our head purchaser and bean counter - literally!

Leader of the pack? Let's get you down to the farmers' market where you can negotiate a rock-bottom price for the farmer's leftovers (that would head to the compost pile otherwise). Feel like being a star? Go talk to the local Rotary about getting some extra funds for fresh foods.

Artistic type? Ooooh - yeah! We need to get the kids to EAT this stuff, right? You'll be designing a marketing and advertising campaign to sell our new meals.


We need to get chefs, restauranteurs, farmers, and small businesses into the act. Each aspect of school food service can be overseen by a mentor with real-world experience. With just a little guidance, the right information and tools, we could put kids in charge of their own lunches.

In the end, a student-run food service will help kids to:
- Understand themselves better and learn how to shine.
- Learn what it means to eat healthy food,
- Become self-sufficient cooks and enterpreneurs-to-be, and most importantly --

Put all hand-wringing aside, and help themselves and the world come to the realization that...


Food Knowledge - To what extent is this concept teaching people about food knowledge?
It's teaching people a great deal about food knowledge
Age of kids. The solutions to changing kids’ eating behaviors will vary depending on their age. What works for a toddler won’t necessarily fly for a teenager, although we suspect some concepts might be appropriate for all ages—even adults! Which age bracket does your concept address (tick all relevant boxes)?
  1. Pre-school (Tots) 2-4
  2. Elementary (Kids) 5-10
  3. Middle school (Tweens) 11-13
  4. High school (Teens) 14 -18
  5. Young adults 18-21
Cooking - Is this concept focused on getting people to cook?
It's all about getting people to cook
Hurdles to success. Helping kids make smarter food choices comes with a variety of hurdles that have to be addressed in order for a design solution to be successful, which of these do you think that your Concept overcomes (tick all relevant boxes)?
  1. Fear of the Unknown
  2. Parental Beliefs and Lifestyle
  3. Expense and Convenience
  4. Peer Pressure
  5. Lack of Knowledge
Originality - How original is this idea?
This idea is somewhat original
Scalability - How scalable is this idea across communities and geographies?
This idea can be scaled across many communities and places


Join the conversation and post a comment.

Shannon Secrist

June 06, 2011, 03:17AM
Wonderful idea! I'm a public school teacher, and I would SO be on board with something like this.

Sarah Adams

April 19, 2011, 11:22AM
I think this is a great concept. Kids have huge creativity and can be given a lot more responsibility than we often imagine. I think many of them would learn heaps from this kind of opportunity!

Anne Ditmeyer

November 12, 2010, 10:55AM
A public school in Paris showing that school lunches don't need to be the stereotypical school lunches we think of:

Liz Snyder

October 24, 2010, 16:24PM
Matt, I think it's highly compatible. I know the folks that run the HEAL farmers' market in Half Moon Bay: - 3rd and 4th graders run a stand at the Coastside Farmers' Market, selling what they grew at school.

A big part of their program is student empowerment and entrepreneurship!

Matt Currie

October 21, 2010, 04:22AM
I wonder how this concept might connect with the Student-run Farmers Markets idea?

Liz Snyder

October 08, 2010, 15:34PM
Thank you Demian! As you say, the financials will always be the biggest challenge. I'm doing my own at-home challenge in November to see if I can do it in my daughter's lunches for a week. I actually think it's very do-able if you focus on a plant-based diet with beans as a primary protein source. Healthy too!

I also think integrating farm-toschool with this concept has a lot of potential as well. I worked to start an 11-acre farm, and I can speak from experience when I say that food waste is a sad but regular occurrence on even the most sustainably-minded farm. If we could harness the bargaining power of impending waste and school-district size volume (i.e. come to the farmers' market at the end of the day, and make some deals and be prepared to take it ALL) then the price for fresh food could be significantly reduced.

Of course, that requires whoever's making the lunches to be VERY nimble when it comes to fresh ingredients - and that's where culinary education and kids in the kitchen pays off - they are the most creative cooks I know! :)

I'd say the biggest barrier is: working kitchens. In the two districts where I've worked, the kitchens were dismantled in favor of heat & serve literally decades ago. I helped get an old, mothballed kitchen back online (with kids' help!) at Full Circle Farms' home middle school - it was a beautiful transformation.

But - word to the weary: it took almost 3 years to get that kitchen going, and nearly as long to start getting ANY of the farm's produce into the school! But in my mind, it was 100% worth it and if I could spend my life doing this over and over again, school district to school district to school district - I would, in a heartbeat!

My best,
Liz Snyder

Demian Repucci

October 08, 2010, 14:36PM
Great idea with a lot of potential! I love the way this concept takes what most everyone sees as a processed food mess and liability, school lunch programs, and turns it into a multi-faceted, integrated learning opportunity for kids. Even if the program struggles... after all, developing delicious healthy lunches for less than $2.59 is not the easiest thing to do...(Jamie had a hard time on his 'Food Revolution' show), I think it would be a great learning experience and real-world business training for kids. So many opportunities, as you mention, for parallel learning in multiple subjects and disciplines.
Great stuff!

Liz Snyder

October 07, 2010, 02:04AM
SOOOO excited to be on the shortlist!!!

Liz Snyder

September 23, 2010, 16:45PM
In today's news: results from Berkeley Unified are in! The conclusion? Integrating cooking and gardening into the school day while implementing farm-to-school in the cafeteria results in kids making better food choices!

Liz Snyder

September 22, 2010, 16:57PM
Thanks Clare! Yes, Edible Schoolyard is a great model - they have an amazing on-site kitchen where culinary education is an integrated part of the garden setting. I'd like to see it taken one step further - where the business side of the whole thing, the costing, sourcing, labor, marketing and menu planning parts - are all put into kids hands.

The more I think about it, the more I love it for High School - imagine a school where *running* the lunch program was a highly competitive program, one you applied to get into your senior year - you could put on your college applications that you had real-world business, culinary, and environmental experience. It would be a real stand-out honor, and it would challenge really talented older kids to take responsibility for their own health, for the planet's future, and for their school's bottom line.

Clare O'Keefe

September 13, 2010, 15:11PM
This is a fab way of integrating food and cooking into the curriculum in a more holistic fashion. The edible schoolyard run by the Chez Panisse foundation has a similar ethos which I have loved reading about in their journal . Children should see where their food comes from. I especially like the way that kids can find their niche but still be part of the whole creative process.

Liz Snyder

September 12, 2010, 20:23PM
Thanks Jordan! I agree, middle and high school are the most neglected grades when it comes to all kinds of nutrition education. As the mom of a kindergartener I value early education a great deal, but I think that there should be many more programs that empower older youth to take charge of their own health! School food service is the perfect venue for both teaching nutrition and leadership.

Food Lab in Davenport is an amazing model - 5th graders cook lunch for the rest of the school:

I'd like to take it a step further - where students also source and budget their lunches. It's a real-world skill that will serve them for a lifetime.

I'd love to see that Google Map if you think of the name!

Jordan J. Lloyd

September 12, 2010, 17:39PM
Love it - this is a particularly good way to get teenagers to get involved; arguably a a much harder group to work with than children. This will be of particular appeal to business studies and economics students, or even keen students wanting to run a club of some sort.

I'd also emphasise looking at the distribution chain, I saw an amazing project put up on Google Maps (it's name escapes me) where they literally plotted on a map where their school lunch ingredients were coming from - local shops and businesses stand to gain a great deal from getting young students to source their school lunches to them. It's a win win scenario for all involved.
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