Meet reWorking Lunch, A Cross-Sector Initiative For Healthy School Meals

In 2018, school cafeterias served nearly 7.5 billion breakfasts and lunches, with over ¾ of those meals free or at a reduced price. That makes school food—an $18 billion industry—a system with great potential to nurture children’s health and wellness. Unfortunately, schools face persistent obstacles to providing the nourishing meals that ensure kids can show up at their desks well-nourished and ready to learn.

That’s why, earlier this summer, we launched reWorking Lunch, alongside leaders in school nutrition, business, education, technology, and philanthropy. Read on to learn more about this initiative and our plans for the years ahead. 

reWorking Lunch is a multi-sector, action-oriented initiative that’s developing solutions to make healthy food in schools abundant and accessible.

Convened by FoodCorps, Bain Capital Double Impact, and Forum for the Future, reWorking Lunch brings together over 100 leaders from the fields of school nutrition, the food industry, philanthropy, technology, and the nonprofit sector. Together, we aim to leverage the collective power of school meal programs to build a future in which kids have access to healthier, more sustainable food at school.

Key national advisors to reWorking Lunch include Arabella Advisors, Boston Public Schools, Campbell Soup Company, Fairfax County Public Schools, the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation, Minneapolis Public Schools, the Rachael Ray Foundation, Revolution Foods, Share Our Strength, sweetgreen, the Urban School Food Alliance, and the Walmart Foundation.

reWorking Lunch addresses some of the most complex challenges in the school food system through collective, collaborative action.

The school meals ecosystem is multifaceted, with interrelated challenges and opportunities. Different players influence—and are influenced by—the system based on their own unique perspectives and incentives.

What does this look like in reality? It can be:

  • A school administration’s need to schedule 20-minute lunch periods to fit more academic instruction into the school day, leaving little time for students to eat their meals – let alone try new healthy items that may be unfamiliar to them; 
  • A food manufacturer prioritizing efficiency and national tastes in product development, makes it challenging for districts to customize for cultural preferences;
  • A distributor planning a route for school food delivery that’s optimized for profit, but makes it challenging for rural communities to access a variety of menu items; 
  • And countless other scenarios.

In these examples and many more, each independent decision has a ripple effect, creating a deeply entangled system.

The purpose of reWorking Lunch is to bring independent decision-makers together and align around a shared vision for our school meal system—one that supports academics, efficiency, and businesses while centering children’s health. To that end, we’ve designed specific actions that will get us to that vision together. We aim to reorient the system toward new goals by building deeper connection, understanding, interaction, and collaboration across the field.

Our shared vision: All students–regardless of race, place, or class–enjoy quality food in school, free from stigma and barriers to access. The food is delicious, appealing, seasonally and culturally relevant, and made from whole, nourishing ingredients. It is sourced and served in ways that support local economies, protect lands and waters, treat animals humanely, and uphold the dignity and health of farmers, food workers, and students themselves.

Four distinct work streams will guide FoodCorps’ and reWorking Lunch partners’ actions over the next year and beyond.

Over the next year, reWorking Lunch will address each of these four areas:

  • Education Connection: Improving the connection between the people who operate school meals and those who operate academic programs.
  • Supply Chain Engagement: Leveraging the power of our nation’s school districts to demand healthier school food products.
  • School Nutrition Leadership: Building a pipeline to recruit and train the next generation of school nutrition leaders.
  • Perception: Shifting the public narrative around what school food looks like today and what it might become.

These four work streams were identified based on their ability to address challenges in the school food system, the breadth of work that’s already happening in this sector and where we can fill gaps, and where reWorking Lunch partners are best placed to effect change. 

While each work stream takes on a different part of the school food system, they are also interconnected and designed to interact with one another, as well as with existing initiatives in the field. For example, a shift in relationships between school administrators and school nutrition leaders may trigger policy changes within a district. A more equitable, innovative supply chain may trigger a shift in perception about school meals. Many barriers stand in the way of our vision, so we need many complementary solutions to realize it.

There isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach to systems change, and no one intervention will single-handedly tip the system. But a set of efforts, designed to align, intersect, and uplift one another, will.

reWorking Lunch has set some ambitious goals to bring about big changes. What’s the plan to make it happen?

We’ll work collaboratively with school nutrition professionals, producers, and food manufacturers to procure healthy, delicious food for students—ensuring that food is healthy and appealing, and that schools can access a variety of affordable options even with limited resources. 

In schools themselves, reWorking Lunch will foster greater connections between school nutrition professionals, educators, and administrators, highlighting the importance of prioritizing healthy, thriving students. To support advancements in school food systems, we know we need strong school nutrition leaders. By equipping nutrition professionals with the necessary tools and experience to drive these transformations, we can ensure there are people in place who are prepared to support other aspects of our work.

Finally, we will seek meaningful ways to engage with students, parents, and communities to shift perception of food in schools—from negative stereotypes to our vision of what cafeterias can and should be.

We know some of these actions are more complicated than others. reWorking Lunch aims to look toward changing food in school on big and small scales alike, balancing readily obtainable wins while also supporting complex systems change.

No single person, organization, or company can change the school food system alone, but together, we can create the conditions for change.

To do any of this important work, we need to leverage collective expertise, power, and hunger for change from stakeholders across the system.

Interested in getting involved with the work streams? We’d love to hear from you!

If you’d like to stay in touch more broadly, sign up for emails from FoodCorps and reWorking Lunch.