Cooking with California Food in K-12 Schools

Last year the Center for Ecoliteracy introduced an amazing school food guide entitled, Cooking with California Food in K-12 Schools. The cookbook is available for free download (how can you resist?) on their website, but I was lucky enough to get it mailed to me to review.

It’s a cookbook, people. A school food cookbook sounds amazing, doesn’t it? Actually, I think it’s revolutionary.

The Center for Ecoliteracy publishes many different how-to guides related to school food reform. I have found their materials to be straightforward and easy to understand –and without a “know-it-all” tone that many guides have trouble avoiding. The Center for Ecoliteracy has outdone itself. What I love about is that it’s very approachable and a thick piece of work – there are tons of recipes for both the newbie chef as well as a seasoned professional looking to liven up what kids eat in cafeterias.

The guide mentions California food because of its focus on incorporating seasonal foods into school lunches. California has a longer growing season in comparison to much of the country, it’s one of the biggest states in our country serving 900 million meals yearly, and the Center for Ecoliteracy is based in California so it’s a logical starting point for this cookbook. While I think that the recipes can be applied to locales across our country, in theory California should be able to incorporate fresh, seasonal produce more easily because it’s more accessible year-round.

Starting with a brief introduction, the book is logically organized with the first chapter focused on the professional development, the instruction, and the preparation involved in making change. As usual the Center for Ecoliteracy describes the steps in a practical, no-nonsense way.

I pretty much love the second chapter entitled, “The Seasonal Salad Bar.” Personally, I’m still learning what’s seasonal to my area and how to use this knowledge effectively to build meals at home including salads. I can imagine that school districts with salad bars would benefit from this information. This section also contains recipes for salad dressings. Reading them over I’m reminded just how easy it is to make “homemade” dressings –or in this case “schoolmade.”

Chapter three is a revelation. It is based on a matrix of six basic lunch dishes (salads, soups, pastas, rice bowls, wraps, and pizza toppings) and five cultural flavor profiles (African, Asian, European/Mediterranean, Latin American, Middle Eastern/Indian), which are meant to be adapted to the seasonal availability of Californian produce. The cookbook further breaks down typical produce including veggies, fruits, legumes, starches, oils, grains, and spices based upon each geographical area’s unique taste profile. Finally, all four seasons are broken down into lists by what is in season in California.

The meat of the cookbook appears in the fourth chapter, which encompasses more than half of the bulk of the book. It’s all recipes.  Ranging from Ham and Yam Pizza to the Yucatan Wrap or the Summer Chicken Stew to the Beef and Asparagus Rice Bowl, I was ready to sample some school food. I wondered when I read the serving sizes of recipes were described as “serves 4-6” or “makes enough to top one 14-inch pizza,” but soon realized that the recipes can be easily multiplied to feed larger groups.

The cookbook wraps up with a resources section and the index. I was left feeling as if I was holding a treasure in my hands. Thankfully, you can also get your hands on Cooking with California Food in K-12 Schools and download the cookbook for free in PDF (in English or in Spanish) by heading over to the Center for Ecoliteracy’s webpage. I would encourage you to peruse their site as it is chockfull of resources ( devoted to helping you learn how to navigate school food reform including the wonderful Rethinking School Lunch (

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10 thoughts on “Cooking with California Food in K-12 Schools

  1. I just took a quick look at the recipes in the book & I am impressed too!

    These recipes are the way I like to cook…simple, flavorful food focusing on fresh ingredients that (coming from CA) are readily available to me. I want the book! I just looked for it at my library & amazon & don’t show anything. Do you think it will be available to buy? Much easier to peruse than as a pdf.

  2. Sure kids can be picky but it has to be a two front stance. If the kids are eating great stuff like this at home then its no big change but if they eat junk at home, that is a tough cookie to break. The dishes look great though.

  3. Are you planning on starting up posting your packed lunches again? I know you said something about starting another blog to post them a while ago.

  4. Thank you, I’ve just been looking for info about this topic for ages and yours is the greatest I’ve came upon till now. However, what in regards to the conclusion? Are you certain concerning the source?

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