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A Fresh Take on School Lunch at KIPP NYC College Prep

Ioli with students

Michael Ioli is in his seventh year with KIPP and has served as an AP Spanish Teacher, a Dean, and the Director of Student Affairs. During all that time, he’s watched students eat food he knew could be healthier and tastier, so he took action. With the support of his Principal, Mike enrolled in culinary school at night to design and implement an innovative food program at KIPP with a dual aim – providing healthier school food options while encouraging students to live healthier lifestyles despite the lack of food options in their communities. After a healthy lunch, Michael told us about the vision, purpose, and future of his culinary program at KIPP NYC College Prep.

Where did your idea for a culinary program come from? How did you get support to start it?

For the last few years, an outside catering company just heated up lunches each day. The portions were small, unseasoned, and undercooked or overcooked. We found our kids were eating less and bringing in more junk food. And so I had this crazy idea to mash up a few of my passions – education, food, and eating well. I spoke with my Principal roughly two years ago, and proposed that I take over the food program. I said, “What if I go to culinary school, build up my chops, get some credibility, and then we use our own kitchen to cook meals? What if I did this every day and served a fresh, healthier option for lunch?” She was sold.

How are you building a financially sustainable lunch program for 1,200 students a day?

The trick is instead of paying all this money to another company, we are providing lunches in-house. We have the right training and staff to serve fresh food made from scratch. We receive ingredient deliveries every day, and we aren’t buying anything packed or processed. It’s about having the know-how, the desire, and the passion to put love and skill into the food.

How is the new culinary program helping to build community at KIPP NYC College Prep?

In the past, teachers did not come down to the cafeteria because sometimes they didn’t want to be in a loud and busy cafeteria. And also, the food wasn’t good. I never used to eat the food here. Now staff members spend time in the cafeteria each day. We figured out a staff meal plan which is something we’ve never had before. We are now trying to figure out how staff can eat in-between classes or can eat with kids at a table. These are all new, great problems for us to tackle.

What do you see as the future of the program?

There is a dearth of fresh produce and good food in our kids’ neighborhoods, so the vision is really a lot bigger than feeding our kids every day. It’s really about changing our kids’ mindsets around food. When they leave here, I hope they will demand better food in their neighborhoods and seek out healthier options. A question I keep asking myself is could we create a culinary track for students to expand their horizons. The International Culinary Center (ICC), where I studied, offered scholarships to a summer culinary technique class to three of our alumni. This is just the beginning. We want to form more partnerships and create a pipeline so some of our alumni can take the next step into the culinary world. My dream is to have the kitchen staffed by students every period as part of a dynamic culinary class.

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Follow Michael on Instagram for menus and more at @kippeatswell