Chefs Move to Schools! Can it Really Change What Students Consume?

Chefs Move to Schools (CMTS), an initiative that is part of First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move Campaign, is designed to increase awareness about and improve healthy eating among school students.  The CMTS initiative is designed to introduce additional opportunities for school food service professionals to collaborate with other culinary professionals to improve school food and encourage greater consumption of the items offered.  Researchers at Cornell University’s Food and Brand Lab sought to find what kind of impact CMTS initiatives can have on school lunch sales and how likely the students are to eat the new foods prepared by the chef.

A high school in upstate New York partnered with a French cuisine chef to carry out a CMTS event.  Before the chef began developing new recipes, she spent a half-day in the participating high school’s cafeteria listening to the head chef explain the complexities of school food and learned about the various ingredients on hand.  Using these ingredients, the chef created five new entrees and a new salad option that students could select in addition to the regularly available options. Each of her dishes complied with school food regulations.

The final event took place in two phases.  First, the visiting chef, introduced the new items in an after school tasting event where she met the students and talked to them about her recipes and her profession.  The following day she used the school’s facilities to prepare her new dishes and served them alongside the foods prepared by the cafeteria’s head chef.  In addition to the pizza and sides that were normally available on pizza day, students were offered a NSLP compliant: meat taco pizza, bean taco pizza, garlic spinach pizza, meat lover’s pizza, or a mozzarella burger and a pre-packaged side salad.

Researchers David Just, Brian Wansink, and Andrew Hanks analyzed lunch sales and tray waste before and after this CMTS event to determine the initiative’s potential impact.  They found that school lunch sales increased by 9% and that vegetable selection and consumption increased by 16%.

“These findings,” according to Dr. Hanks, “suggest that Chefs Move to Schools has potential to offer a win-win opportunity for school lunch programs and for students. CMTS can increase NSLP meal compliance and also potentially improve students’ nutrition by increasing consumption of vegetables or other healthy sides that complement the main dish.”

Related Articles: 

Gourmet School Lunches with Chefs Move to Schools


Katie Baildon, Cornell Center for Behavioral Economics in Child Nutrition Programs


David Just, Brian Wansink, and Andrew Hanks. (2014). Chefs Move to Schools: A Piolet Examination of How Chef-created Dishes Can Increase School Lunch Participation and Fruit and Vegetable Intake. Appetite, 83. DOI: 10.1016/j.appet.2014.08.033