20 Most Influential: Ann Cooper, Boulder Valley School District

The Renegade Lunch Lady works hard to bring together communities to create a healthy school lunch program.

Ann Cooper
Director of Foodservice,
Boulder Valley School District,
Boulder, Colo.

Ann Cooper calls herself the Renegade Lunch Lady. What Cooper does shouldn’t be considered renegade. She’s simply bringing together communities to create a healthy school lunch program. So why all the fuss?

School districts can be notoriously laden with bureaucratic red tape. Add foodservice into the conversation, and some school administrators become downright hostile. Cooper has been smart about the selection of districts she’s attempted to tackle. First, Berkeley and now Boulder, two cities where community involvement, health and wellness, and, perhaps most importantly, money are bountiful.

In both districts Cooper has fostered a community effort revolving around bettering the school meals program. Cooper’s persistence and determination have been instrumental in creating this collaboration.

Cooper’s aim is to bring “natural, simpler, ‘clean’ ingredient labels void of additives, colorings and preservatives” onto the menus in Boulder. She’s eliminated chocolate milk, added a salad bar in every cafeteria and cut highly processed items like chicken nuggets from the menus.

Cooper’s influence doesn’t stop within Boulder’s city limits. She’s an advocate for healthier school meals and regularly appears in the national media speaking about the need for reform. In 2009, Cooper founded the Food Family Farming Foundation, a nonprofit organization “created to empower schools to serve nutritious whole foods to all students,” according to the company’s website. One of the foundation’s tools, the Lunch Box, is an online consortium of healthy recipes, technical tools and resources. True to Cooper’s form, the Lunch Box features a community section where others can share their thoughts and read about the good work being done in school nutrition.  

Foodservice Director has undertaken a bold initiative by identifying people who we believe are having the biggest impact on non-commercial foodservice. Our list may surprise you and should certainly intrigue you. Our honorees have backgrounds as varied as their personalities. They range from the father of the modern-day food truck to the wife of a sitting president. They include operators and suppliers, chefs and consultants, CEOs and civil servants. There are traditionalists and there are mavericks. Well-known names share space with hot newcomers. In all, 17 people, two groups of individuals and one institution compose the list. It’s time to meet FSD’s 20 Most Influential.

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