FACT 1: Today, about 1 in 3 American kids & teens is overweight or obese, nearly triple the rate in 1963. [Source: American Heart Association]

FACT 2: Former Surgeon General Richard Carmona, characterized the threat of childhood obesity as follows, “Because of the increasing rates of obesity, unhealthy eating habits and physical inactivity, we may see the first generation that will be less healthy and have a shorter life expectancy than their parents.”

To say these facts are sobering is an understatement. We think they are terrifying. But, there is hope thanks to one incredible woman you should know who is on a mission to transform how we, as a nation, feed our children… one school lunch at a time. Meet Chef Ann Cooper, the Renegade Lunch Lady.

Ann has been an accomplished chef for over 30 years. She is also a celebrated author, public speaker, and educator. She is the past president of The American Culinary Federation of Central Vermont, and past president and board member of Women’s Chefs and Restaurateurs. She also served on the U.S. Department of Agriculture National Organic Standards Board, a Congressional appointment, and was an Executive Committee member of Chefs Collaborative – all in an effort to raise awareness about the value of healthful, seasonal, organic, and regional foods.

Chef Ann Cooper with kidsBut, some of Ann’s most important work comes from her enduring advocacy for transforming how we feed our children in school each day, from highly processed to fresh, delicious, and highly nourishing food. That’s how she earned herself the title of Renegade Lunch Lady.

After researching and writing Bitter Harvest, Ann’s groundbreaking book on the relationship between food, politics and health, the always curious and proactive chef had an epiphany. No longer could the environmental and health facts be ignored when it came to producing food in this country. So, Ann made a decision to shift her career path from primarily cooking to cooking, writing, and public speaking – all advocacy work for a healthier food system. Specifically, she refocused her skills and efforts on creating a sustainable model for schools nationwide to transition any processed food based K-12 school meal program to a whole foods environment where food is procured regionally and prepared from scratch.

To that end, in 2009, Ann founded the Food Family Farming Foundation (F3), a nonprofit organization designed to empower schools to serve nutritious whole food to all students. F3’s mission is to provide tools (educational training programs, direct services, a web portal and collateral resources) that enable all schools, parents, advocates, students, administrators, teachers and food service staff to progress from serving highly processed, unhealthy food to serving fresh, scratch-cooked food.

Food Family Farming Foundation LogoF3’s pivotal project is The Lunch Box – Healthy Tools To Help All Schools, a web-based portal that provides the most current information and pragmatic tools, recipes and community connections necessary to support school food reform and make good food available for all kids. F3’s second project is a collective initiative called Let’s Move Salad Bars to Schools, which is helping schools take the first step to fresher whole foods by implementing salad bars as part of their meal programs. Run in conjuction with National Fruit and Vegetable Alliance, United Fresh Produce Association Foundation, and Whole Foods Market, it supports First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move! initiative.

Today, through her Food Family Farming Foundation, special projects, websites and speaking engagements, Ann leads a network of people throughout the United States and the world working to change the way our children are eating.

We think Chef Ann Cooper is one of the coolest lunch ladies around and we applaud her for her tireless efforts to ensure that kids everywhere have wholesome, nutritious, delicious food at school.

Lead photo property of Kirsten Boyer Photography