Over 30 million children eat meals at school every day, and our country spends over $18B on school meal programs annually. Yet, in today’s America, one in five children still struggles with hunger, and one in three are on track to develop diabetes in their lifetime. For children of color, it’s one in two. Children who suffer from diet-related diseases score lower on tests, miss more days of school, advance less in their careers, and grow up to raise kids who are likely to repeat the same cycle. What we feed our children affects how they behave, how they learn, how far they will progress in their education and careers, and ultimately, how long they’re going to live. We can do better.

The scale of opportunity is huge – there are seven times as many schools in our country than there are McDonald’s restaurants – yet the school food system enjoys none of the efficiencies of a high-functioning franchise. Fragmentation of supply and demand, highly restricted communication channels, and a demanding regulatory environment are hallmarks of the school food marketplace. These issues cost us money and ultimately result in fewer healthy options for kids.

Recent changes to school meal regulations have created even more uncertainty about what the future holds for school meals, with many believing that even greater fragmentation and even less efficiency may be in store. But this moment of unpredictability also offers an opportunity for innovation and leadership. The barriers and challenges in the school food environment are known. What is needed now are clear and actionable solutions that all school food stakeholders can rally around – solutions for healthy school food that are co-created by school districts, manufacturers, distributors, government, nonprofits, parents, and kids.

reWorking Lunch is convening senior leaders and decision-makers across the food system to determine how we might:

  • Leverage the scale of 21,000 school districts to provide healthier, affordable menu items
  • Fuel product innovation that brings better-for-you alternatives that kids like and that are not more expensive
  • Create demand for healthier menu items and position school food as a high-quality dining experience
  • Ensure that school meal supply-chain operations make it easier, not harder, for school districts to procure (and manufacturers to provide) the healthy food schools want

Lasting solutions will only be realized through the collaboration of a multi-sector group of stakeholders who, together, leverage their specific skills and assets towards healthier and higher-quality school meals.