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.

More From FoodService Director

Ideas and Innovation
kale quinoa salad

With all the hype around probiotics, we decided to create a daily dish that incorporates probiotics in addition to prebiotics. You rarely hear about prebiotics, and this was a great way to highlight how the two work synergistically to maintain a healthy gut. Our chefs have developed menu items such as roasted salmon with yogurt and mint vinaigrette; kale and quinoa salad with warm maple dressing; and leek soup with pickled cucumbers, to name a few.

Ideas and Innovation
packaged meals

While the multiple-choice questions on FoodService Director’s annual census surveys are a great way of gathering data on trends, I’ve always been rather partial to the open-ended queries. We can’t possibly think up every answer operators might have to a particular question, and it gives respondents a chance to show some personality as well. (A special nod to one cheeky operator’s not-quite-safe-for-work response to how they’re tackling shortened lunch periods—you made my day.)

So this year, for the first time since I’ve been at FoodService Director, I chose to include a very open-...

Menu Development
ramen bowl spoon chopsticks

Asian noodle soups are a popular lunch option at YouTube’s San Bruno, Calif., campus, says Trent Page, the GM at Bon Appetit Management who runs the company’s three corporate dining venues. But Page noticed an increasing preference for customizable dishes and vegan preparations among the 1,000 customers he feeds daily. Inspired by a recent visit to Japan, he introduced tsukemen to the menu—a dish that features most of the traditional ramen ingredients (noodles, eggs and vegetable garnishes) served separately so diners can mix and match. “Separating the components makes it more customizable...

Ideas and Innovation
chicken dinner

For the last three years, we’ve hosted an event called Winner, Winner, Chicken Dinner. We sponsor the local chapter of Future Farmers of America to raise the chickens, and we have to arrange all the transporting from farms to the distributor, which keeps the birds in a freezer until we’re ready. We build hype by having students vote on the proprietary spice blend they would like on the chicken. It helps the nutrition team get involved in the educational process and showcase local food purchasing.

FSD Resources