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California Food for California Kids®


A partnership of the Center for Ecoliteracy and the TomKat Foundation, California Food for California Kids is a comprehensive statewide initiative designed to increase students’ ecological understanding about where their food comes from and how it reaches the table, improve children’s health and academic achievement, celebrate the abundance of California agriculture, enhance the state economy, and benefit the environment.

California Food for California Kids supports district-level operational excellence and leverages the magnitude of public school meals—over 1 billion served each year in California—to effect positive changes in the food system through the purchasing power of school districts. The initiative provides an array of programs, resources, and inspiration for school food service professionals, educators, and school communities. It operates at multiple levels of scale, including a statewide network, regional clusters of school districts and their partners, and with programs operating within individual school districts.


California Food for California Kids®

The California Food for California Kids initiative began in 2010 as a suite of integrated programs that included a statewide conference of school food service directors, publication of a cookbook and professional development guide, Cooking with California Food in K–12 Schools, and a study that resulted in the report Are California Kids Eating California Food? In 2013, working with Oakland Unified School District as part of the multi-year Rethinking School Lunch Oakland program, the Center for Ecoliteracy and Oakland Unified developed and piloted California Thursdays® as a “bite-sized” implementation program to serve more freshly prepared school meals made with California-grown food. In 2014, the California Thursdays program was launched statewide in collaboration with a network of 15 school districts, including large and small, urban, rural, and suburban districts across the state. By 2016, the California Thursdays Network grew to 71 districts, representing nearly 3,000 schools and 1.85 million students. The California Thursdays Network collectively serve over 309 million school meals a year (35% of the state total)..


The Center for Ecoliteracy is a nonprofit organization that advances ecological education in K–12 schools. With more than two decades of research, publishing, and hands-on involvement in education for sustainable living initiatives and systems change efforts in school food, the Center and its staff lead the initiative. The TomKat Foundation creates and partners with innovative organizations that envision a world with climate stability, a healthy and just food system, and broad prosperity.

“This is an exciting project for us, not only because of the obvious health benefits for the kids, but also their learning readiness, the promise of wonderful jobs, and the life prospects it creates for them. By reactivating the whole system and the prudent use of our scarce resources of energy, water, and topsoil, California can present a model to the rest of the country and the world in terms of connecting through our social contract to find the best solutions for the things that we all need and want to do together.”

Kat Taylor
Founding Director, TomKat Foundation


Systems Thinking

Systems thinking informs the work of the Center for Ecoliteracy and is applied in the California Food for California Kids initiative. A systems approach encourages thinking in terms of relationships, connectedness, and context. Thinking systemically entails several shifts in perception, including from parts to the whole, from objects to relationship, from quantity to quality, from structure to process, and from contents to patterns.

Rethinking School Lunch Planning Framework

The Center for Ecoliteracy’s Rethinking School Lunch Guide provides a planning framework for improving school food, supporting sustainable food systems, and teaching and integrating curriculum around food issues. The Rethinking School Lunch framework identifies 10 aspects of school operations that relate to food change—10 pathways that educators, parents, and school communities can follow as they plan for innovation and change in school food. It is based on the realization that change can begin at multiple points, depending on resources, interests, obstacles, and opportunities.

Collective Impact Model

The California Food for California Kids initiative and its signature program California Thursdays adopt the “collective impact model” to activate networks with shared goals for social change. With collective impact efforts, a backbone organization such as the Center for Ecoliteracy plays six key roles: guiding vision and strategy, supporting aligned activity, establishing shared measurement practices, building public will, advancing policy, and mobilizing funding.


California Department of Food and Agriculture, Specialty Crop Block Grant Program

The California Endowment

Chilean Forests Preservation Fund

Food and Nutrition Resources Foundation

Marin Community Foundation

New Priorities Foundation

Panta Rhea Foundation

RSF Small Planet Fund of RSF Social Finance

S.D. Bechtel, Jr. Foundation

Safeway Foundation

The San Francisco Foundation

Stupski Foundation

Tides Foundation

TomKat Foundation

US Department of Agriculture, Farm to School Grant Program


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