School Lunch Initiative

An Evidence-Based Practice


The School Lunch Initiative began as a partnership between the Chez Panisse Foundation (now The Edible Schoolyard Project) and the Berkeley Unified School District. The program was created in order to take lessons learned from the kitchen and the garden and deliver them to the classroom in order to teach local students about healthy eating and sustainability. The program is system-wide change in not only food service, but is also accompanied by educational components in the classroom, hands-on gardening, cooking classes in the kitchen, and learning about the "farm to table" process.

Goal / Mission

The primary goal of the School Lunch Initiative is to transform the way Berkeley public school students eat lunch and to educate children about food, health, and the environment.

Results / Accomplishments

Three years after its conception, the program has successfully eliminated nearly all processed foods from the school district dining halls and introduced fresh and organic foods to the daily menu. Meanwhile, the district has been able to keep within the confines of the food service budget. The program has accomplished many goals including 1) eliminating all transfat and high fructose corn syrup from the daily menu; 2) using all seasonal, fresh, whole produce instead of frozen and pre-cut items; 3) all participating schools have a fresh salad bar; 4) 12 out of 16 schools serve lunch using a buffet service, as opposed to prepackaged, plastic-wrapped disposable trays; 5) organic milk from Humboldt County is being serviced in all schools; 6) produce is purchased directly from local, organic farms; and 7) all kitchens are composting and recycling.

From 2006-2009, The Center for Weight and Health at the University of California, Berkeley conducted a study that followed 238 fourth and fifth grade students as they progressed into middle school in order to evaluate the effects of highly developed and lesser-developed School Lunch Initiative programs on student attitudes, knowledge, and behaviors toward food. Greater exposure to the School Lunch Initiative was significantly associated with higher nutrition knowledge scores among fourth graders and seventh graders (p<0.05). Elementary school students from the schools with highly developed School Lunch Initiative components clearly expressed a higher preference for fruits and vegetables (fourth-graders, p<0.001; fifth-graders, p<0.0001), but by seventh grade, preference for fruits and vegetables was similar among the various exposure groups. There were no consistent, signi´Čücant differences in attitudes about food, health, the environment, or school between students from highly developed School Lunch Initiative schools and those from lesser-developed schools over the three years of the evaluation. After adjusting for differences in race and parent's education, fruit and vegetable consumption increased by nearly 1.5 servings (0.7 cups) per day (p<0.01) among students that moved into fifth grade and attended schools with highly developed School Lunch Initiative components. In contrast, those attending schools with lesser-developed School Lunch Initiative components had decreased their consumption of both fruits and vegetables by nearly 0.4 servings (-0.2 cups) per day (p<0.01) as they moved into the fifth grade.

About this Promising Practice

Primary Contact
The Edible Schoolyard Project
1517 Shattuck Avenue
Berkeley, CA 94709
Health / Children's Health
Health / Exercise, Nutrition, & Weight
Education / School Environment
Berkeley Unified School District, Chez Panisse Foundation, The Center for Ecoliteracy
Date of publication
Sep 2010
Date of implementation
Geographic Type
Berkeley, CA
For more details
Target Audience
Children, Teens