Chefs Move to Schools: A Pilot Study of the Influence of Outside Chefs on School Lunchroom Behavior
In May 2010, the White House announced a program entitled “Chefs Move to Schools” (CMTS) as part of the First Lady’s Let’s Move campaign. The program pairs chefs with schools in order to provide instruction to children and culinary advice to interested food service workers. The purpose of this research was to conduct a pilot study gauging the feasibility of CMTS programs, and measure student response, through lunch sales and food consumption.
The study examined the potential impact of a local, professional chef preparing four main dishes to be offered on a high school lunch menu. Success of the intervention was measured over four weeks, by analyzing the impact of new food creations on the number of students purchasing school lunch. The researchers were also interested in what proportion of the hypothesized increase in school-lunch purchases were of the chef-created entrees.
During the study, three types of pizza were always offered: cheese, garlic, and pepperoni, however each Thursday the CMTS chef would prepare an additional specialty pizza. The chef in this pilot study chose to develop four types of pizza and two types of hamburger to be served as main dishes, and a pre-packaged salad as a side item. To be consistent with the existing menu rotation, the chef’s pizzas and hamburgers were served on Thursdays. In an effort to engage the students, the professional chef held an afterschool taste-testing event where the students had the opportunity to meet her and taste the foods the she prepared for lunch the next day. No educational sessions were conducted as part of this event.
Changes in both the selection and consumption of items was then evaluated using tray waste records. Based on the data collected, the chef’s taste-testing event corresponded to a 19.3% increase in participation at the high school level. Results showed an additional 9.3% of students participating in the National School Lunch Program chose to purchase lunch when the chef’s main dishes were offered, compared to other days when the regular pizza was offered. More students took pizza overall during days when the chef prepared entrees compared to on regular pizza days. Additionally, vegetable consumption increased by 16.5%, driven by increased consumption of salad. This suggests that offering a vegetable that complements the available main dishes can significantly impact vegetable consumption.
This study provides preliminary evidence of the feasibility and impact of interventions connecting professional chefs with school lunch programs. When implemented, the program increased sales of school lunch in addition to vegetable consumption, at the high school level. This demonstrates the potential for success in both increasing children’s consumption of fruits and vegetables while at school, but also in increasing revenue for the school food service program. This could potentially offset any additional cost related to ingredient needs for the chef-inspired creations. Results from this pilot study highlight the potential win-win opportunities for food professionals and students in an effort to help achieve the goals of the National School Lunch Program.