BOULDER, Colo. — ScratchWorks is a trade-driven collective of school food professionals and nonprofit organizations committed to supporting school districts in cooking meals from scratch using whole, fresh ingredients, providing students with the nutrition they need for their educational success, health, and wellbeing.
ScratchWorks began in the spring of 2019 with a commitment from six food service directors and six supporting organizations to envision a new possibility: to design a collective vision for the future of nutritious school meals.
“We need this now more than ever. I have worked in school food for many years and have long envisioned an effort like ScratchWorks to support my peers,” said Bertrand Weber, Director of Culinary & Wellness Services for Minneapolis Public Schools in Minnesota. “The pandemic has made it more difficult for school food teams to serve scratch-cooked meals, but we stay focused on that as our goal. We have to commit ourselves to do what is possible now and make sure we continue to move forward when we return to a traditional school meal schedule.”
Research shows the benefits of cooking school meals from scratch using fresh, unprocessed ingredients. Not only do childhood obesity rates decrease among students with access to healthy food at school, but their measurable academic performance improves as well. Scratch cooking is also a financially sustainable food service model for districts; since they can set their own recipes, scratch-cook programs have more control over the cost of their ingredients than if they were to purchase pre-processed items from a food supplier. The ability to purchase whole ingredients locally also contributes to the local food economy and a more environmentally sustainable way of preparing food in schools.
Scratch cooking is also a key part of the solution to food inequity experienced by many Black and Hispanic communities in the United States. According to a 2019 report by UConn’s Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity, food-related companies target Black and Hispanic youth at significantly higher rates than their white peers with advertisements for fast food, candy, sugary drinks, and snacks––all of which are significant contributors to poor diets and diet-related diseases.
The National School Lunch Program (NSLP) is the second largest food relief program in the country, providing a unique opportunity for equal access to healthy, scratch-cooked meals that are rich in nutrients, protein, fiber, vitamins, and minerals. Providing more scratch-cooked school meals could reduce the rate at which students consume ultra-processed foods.
Recognizing the abundance of research that demonstrates the benefits of scratch-cooked school meals, ScratchWorks is proud to be the first professional organization dedicated to providing space for food service professionals to network, share resources, and lend their support to colleagues interested in preparing meals from scratch.
While the School Nutrition Association (SNA)––the only trade organization supporting school food professionals––offers tracks and panels on scratch cooking at their conferences, SNA is not itself an affinity group for food service professionals dedicated to scratch cooking.
“Scratch cooking is no longer considered a niche in school food,” said Anneliese Tanner, founding member of ScratchWorks and Executive Director of Food Services at Austin Independent School District in Texas. “Districts of all sizes are trying to move toward scratch cooking and need a peer network to provide a touchstone for support throughout their journey.”
ScratchWorks will develop three unique programs that will help their members move towards scratch cooking:
- Advocacy: ScratchWorks will partner with an experienced advocacy group to better understand the guidance and legislation needed to increase opportunities for scratch cooking in schools based on current needs and key issues.
- Annual Gathering: ScratchWorks is targeting late 2021/early 2022 for its first Annual Gathering that will provide education and networking opportunities. ScratchWorks will wait and see how the pandemic unfolds to determine a final date.
- Mentorship Program: This initiative will match experienced scratch-cook school food leaders with emerging professionals. The framework of the mentorship program has been outlined and implementation of this initiative will happen in early 2022.
“Scratch cooking is absolutely achievable, and the ScratchWorks network of operators that have successfully transformed perceptions, values, and beliefs surrounding school food are prepared and ready to support districts nationwide,” said Robert Jaber, founding member of ScratchWorks and Executive Director of Food and Nutrition Services for District of Columbia Public Schools.
These district leaders, school food operators, and nonprofit organizations have worked collectively for decades to advance scratch cooking in school food, provide students with higher quality nutrition, and help kids create lifelong habits that connect the food they eat to their health and the health of our planet.
“I get calls every week from school food teams that want to visit my district to see how we cook from scratch,” said Chef Ann Cooper, Food Services Director at Boulder Valley School District in Colorado. “We need a trade group these people can turn to, to connect with others that are cooking from scratch or trying to.”
The founders of this collaborative came together to better support school districts and school food professionals in transitioning to scratch cooking. From their discussion, collaboration, and commitment to change, ScratchWorks was born.
Founding School Food Service Members:
Ann Cooper – Director of Food Services, Boulder Valley School District | Boulder, CO
Robert Jaber – Executive Director of Food & Nutrition Services, District of Columbia Public Schools | Washington, DC
Amy Maclosky – Director of Food & Nutrition Services, Arlington Public Schools | Arlington, VA
Stephen O’Brien – Director of Strategic Partnerships & Policy, Food & Nutrition Services, NYC Department of Education | New York City, NY
Anneliese Tanner – Executive Director of Food Services & Warehouse Operations, Austin Independent School District | Austin, TX
Bertrand Weber – Director of Culinary & Wellness Services, Minneapolis Public Schools | Minneapolis, MN
Chef Ann Foundation
Harlem Children’s Zone
Life Time Foundation
Wellness in the Schools
Whole Kids Foundation
ScratchWorks is a collective of school food professionals and non-profit organizations committed to supporting school districts in cooking school meals from scratch using whole, fresh ingredients that provide students with the nutrition they need for their educational success, health, and wellbeing.