The Lunch Box Project has named Ted Weidman, (Chef Ted), February’s “School Food Hero” thanks to the recommendation of Kohler Public School administrator, Susan Jaberg. The Lunch Box Project is an organization that believes all children must have access to healthy food to grow their bodies, minds and future; it maintains a web-based portal with information for schools to make a healthy difference for all children in America. In her recommendation, she writes in glowing terms the effect that Chef Ted has had on student/teacher life since he came on board in August of 2008. The teachers feed their knowledge while Chef Ted provides wholesome sustenance to their physical needs. Keep reading for more about Chef Ted’s special honor and the Lunch Box Project.

This month’s school food hero, Ted Weidman, aka “Chef Ted”, would not have come to the attention of The Lunch Box Project editorial staff without the recommendation of Kohler Public School principal Susan Jaberg, who related to us in glowing terms the effect that Chef Ted has had on student and teacher life since he came on board in August of 2008. It’s clear that Chef Ted’s presence has led to not only a completely different approach to school lunch preparation, but has created a larger awareness amongst the students about nutrition and food, and has helped all members of the community to develop a new understanding of food issues.

Chef Ted would not have been able to do any of this, however, without the initiative of parent groups, who had organized in opposition to the dismal lunch offerings that had been the status quo at Kohler. After applying consistent pressure to the school board, the parents were able to catalyze the transition away from the pre-packaged, frozen, and canned “food” that had previously been the norm to a radically different menu that includes locally sourced produce, foods made from scratch, and an atmosphere that has been described as a “home-cooked restaurant” feel.

With 23 years of experience working as a hotel and restaurant chef, including time as the owner of his own restaurant, Chef Ted brings with him a vast knowledge of food preparation techniques and nutrition theory. Despite having success as a restaurant chef, Chef Ted always had a desire to teach about cooking, and in fact has appeared on local TV stations as a food expert, so his work at Kohler has become the perfect opportunity for Ted to work as an educator and spread the word about nutrition.

Before Ted’s arrival, the lunch program had been losing money, serving only about 80 meals to a largely unenthusiastic crowd. The new meals, although slightly more expensive, have proven so popular that about 400-500 students (in a school of 600) have opted in, and Chef Ted has become a beloved figure amongst the students and teachers alike. It’s not hard to see why Ted is so popular with menu offerings that include breads made from scratch, cooked to order thai-noodle bowls, Harvest of the Month salad bars, vegetarian options, and the conspicuous absence trans-fat, or anything fried (there is no deep fryer in the kitchen).

Besides turning a profit for the school, the changes have affected student’s moods and attitudes as well. Many teachers now count themselves as willing consumers of the new school lunches and have noticed the positive effects on students. Chef Ted relishes the opportunity to expose young people to new foods that they may have never heard of or eaten such as star fruit and sun-choke, describing the students as “little sponges” who are eager to absorb all the new culinary experiences that Ted is making possible. He has developed a devoted following at Kohler, and describes how much fun work he has at work. “I feel like I am part of their family,” says Ted, who is a popular figure around school and often visits classrooms to lecture about nutrition and health.

Chef Ted sees education as crucial for implementing wide-scale change in the school food system. Not only do students need to be aware of nutrition, but society at large needs to know the truth about school lunches and the effect they are having on our kids. “People need to know that there are alternatives out there,” says Ted, “society wants this, but doesn’t know how to implement it.” The Lunch Box is proud to feature school food heroes like Chef Ted Weidman who are blazing the path to a new future of healthy school food options. With the support of parents, teachers, administrators, and kitchen staff, Ted has been able to demonstrate that change is possible, and that you too can be a part of it.