MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – It’s a challenge that schools across the nation are facing, how to make school lunches healthier and tastier.

Wednesday in Minneapolis, a group of school lunch directors from several states got together for a culinary boot camp.

The day of training was sponsored by the Life Time Foundation and Minneapolis Public Schools.

Food service directors from eight states spent time sharing ideas and learning how to make new recipes.

This was a rare event.

It was training designed specifically for school lunch directors who are passionate  about getting away from processed, pre-packaged food and working more with fresh ingredients that are healthier for children.

The boot camp drew school lunch directors from California, Nevada, Ohio, Colorado and Michigan, as well as those from Minnesota.

The need to improve the quality of school lunches is becoming more urgent as the effort to curb childhood obesity becomes more widespread.

Chef Ann Cooper runs a foundation in Boulder, Colo. that’s devoted to improving school lunch.

“What we are doing to our kids is unconscionable. We need to change how we feed our kids. We have to stop feeding our kids processed foods. Absolutely. We need to cook more and we need to get chemicals out of the food we feed our children,” Cooper said.

The Life Time Foundation is on board as well, awarding millions of dollars in grants to school districts trying to serve healthier foods.

“Right now better quality food costs more. So, we would like to make it a zero cost increase for schools to commit to feeding their kids healthier,”  Barb Koch, executive director of the Life Time Foundation, said.

At lunch, the group practiced what they preach and ate food that’s on the menu at Minneapolis Public Schools.

“Imagine that all you’re serving are chicken nuggets and tater tots. All you need is box cutters, right? You don’t even need stoves, you just heat it up in a hot box. To go from that to fresh cooked chicken you need to have the equipment, you need to have training, you need to have staff. It absolutely takes more resources,” Cooper said.

After lunch, they learned how to make those foods at the Central Kitchen for Minneapolis Public Schools.

It’s a place where an increasing amount of school lunch foods are being made from scratch.

One of the biggest obstacles in school lunch preparation is money.

The cost of the equipment that allows school staff to cook from scratch, in bulk, is high.

But that is the equipment that enables them to make their own sauces and marinades without relying on pre-packaged food that is full of preservatives.

The Life Time Foundation awarded Minneapolis Public Schools a $550,000 grant last year so that they could buy that kind of equipment.

So, what can we as parents do to help kids eat a wider range of foods and healthier foods?

Chef Ann says we should spend time grocery shopping with our kids and cooking with them.

Better yet, eat dinner with them as often as possible.

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