20 Most Influential: Tim Cipriano, New Haven Public Schools

Known as the Local Food Dude, Cipriano has made it his mission to bring healthy, sustainable fare to school lunch.

In child nutrition there’s a dichotomy between obesity and hunger. In the New England city that Yale calls home, Tim Cipriano is combatting both sides of that food coin.

Tim Cipriano

Executive Director of Food Services,

New Haven Public Schools,

New Haven, Conn.

In child nutrition there’s a dichotomy between obesity and hunger. In the New England city that Yale calls home, Tim Cipriano is combatting both sides of that food coin.

Cipriano came to the district in the summer of 2008 to transition the department to self-op and remake the program into a healthy dining experience. He knew he couldn’t change the system overnight and alienate the students, 80% of whom qualify for free or reduced-priced meals, so he made little changes like switching all breads to whole grain. He then started making more “real food,” such as using fresh potatoes instead of canned to make mashed potatoes. Cipriano also eliminated chicken nuggets, a school lunch staple, instead opting for whole chickens to make roasted chicken breasts.

Living up to his moniker, the Local Food Dude, Cipriano has worked with the schools to plant gardens and to use that produce in the students’ meals. Cipriano was also instrumental in starting the Chefs Move to Schools program and sits on the steering committee for the CIA’s Healthy Flavors, Healthy Kids conference.

“We are on the forefront of hunger,” Cipriano told FSD. “There are children in our schools who rely on New Haven School food as their only nutrition of the day and that saddens me.” Cipriano might be sad, but he’s fighting back.

“Tim is completely committed to making sure kids in America get the healthy food they need, not just enough food,” says Debbie Shore, co-founder of Share Our Strength, a national nonprofit working to end childhood hunger in America. “Tim has been a longtime and tireless supporter of Share Our Strength’s No Kid Hungry campaign on local and national levels. We have benefitted tremendously from his influence as a school nutrition innovator and community leader in New Haven and his willingness to always do more.” 

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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