Chef Ann Cooper made some fifth grade enemies when she took the nacho cheese sauce out of Berkeley school lunches last October. But this fall she’s hitting her stride. Cooper (aka Chef Ann), with funding from the Chez Panisse Foundation, administers the lunch program for 9,000 East Bay students in the Berkeley Unified School District. She has a new book, co-authored with Lisa Holmes, called Lunch Lessons: Changing the Way We Feed Our Children, and both The New York Times and The New Yorker have recently written about how she’s turning cafeteria cuisine on its ear.
Cooper’s book, like Cooper herself, doesn’t mince words. Instead, she offers parents wisdom from her foray into cooking for kids. “Don’t buy into marketing for kids,” she advises and “make mealtime special.” Cooper then gives practical tips for achieving these goals. Recipes for lunches of Mediterranean chicken wraps and orzo salad will likely appeal to grown-ups as much as children. “Children don’t need frozen chicken nuggets, french fries, macaroni and cheese, and pizza to keep them happy,” she writes.
Cooper’s zeal comes from her concern for children’s health. She explains a dire statistic from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: of all the six-year-olds who just started school, one of three Caucasians, and one of two African Americans and [one of two] Latinos will become diabetic.
“They will be the first generation of kids to die younger [than their parents] because of what we’re feeding them.” Scary? Yes. But that’s why Cooper’s book is worth a read.