Building Healthy Communities

Grantee Name

Wellness in the Schools, Inc.

Funding Area

Building Healthy Communities

Publication Date

October 2018

Grant Amount


Grant Date:

November 2016 – December 2017

In New York City, one in five kindergarten students and one in four students from low-income families are obese.

Childhood obesity impacts children’s long-term health, as well as their academic performance. To address this public health issue, Wellness in the Schools (WITS), in partnership with the New York City Office of SchoolFood, developed Alternative Menu (AM). The AM program enables schools to remove processed food items and replace them with more scratch-cooking, fresher ingredients, and healthier menu options such as salad bars. However, this program can be difficult to implement without proper training of cafeteria staff and student engagement. Of the 1,700 schools in New York City, only 150 offer AM.

NYHealth awarded WITS a modest grant to host a pilot culinary boot camp (CookCamp) for SchoolFood cafeteria workers. CookCamp is designed to train cafeteria staff and other food service professionals on the skills needed to implement AM and prepare and serve nutritious, high-quality meals that appeal to students.

Outcomes and Lessons Learned

  • Held a three-day CookCamp training for participants on key culinary skills, including basic cooking techniques, knife skills, storage and organization of fresh produce, advance prepping, and menu planning.
  • Trained 19 cafeteria staff on how to successfully implement AM, with participants representing schools that serve approximately 6,350 children in Central Brooklyn and East Harlem (an NYHealth Healthy Neighborhoods Fund community).
  • Monitored and engaged with the participating schools to check on progress and troubleshoot any problems that arose.

The CookCamp training occurred a full year later than expected. The delay was a result of SchoolFood needing to approve the CookCamp curriculum, which took longer than anticipated. However, the additional time allowed SchoolFood to ensure that every detail was correct for school implementation—from recipes to safety procedures to union rules regarding breaks.

CookCamp participants were overwhelmingly supportive of the program, with many requesting ongoing technical assistance from WITS so their peers can be trained as well. Creating advocates and champions of the program from the participant base is one of the best ways to ensure the program will continue. Participants have said that students are responding positively as well, with students increasingly requesting tastings and more inclined to try new menu items.

The concepts behind the AM concept, such as menu planning, food safety, and tastings, are quickly becoming more common in schools. NYHealth continues to invest in other programs that build capacity to improve the way that New York City’s 1.1 million public school children are fed every day.


Co-Funding and Additional Funds Leveraged:

Four New York City council members, as well as the Manhattan Borough President, are providing continued support for WITS in their districts ($85,000).