Wellness in the Schools: Teaching Kids Healthy Habits to Learn and Live Better

by Gabrielle Khalife
The Beecher Foundation
Part of the Food Policy Community Spotlight Series

Name: Wellness in the Schools

What they do: Wellness in the Schools (WITS) partners with public schools to provide nutrition and fitness education, healthy meals cooked from scratch and active recess periods. With one in three children in the United States overweight or obese, WITS’s approach improves student outcomes and drives systemic, long-term change, shifting school cultures and ultimately fighting the childhood obesity epidemic.

How they do it: Wellness in the Schools actively engages students and school staff in a fundamental reimagination of the lunch and recess experience and works to increase environmental awareness. WITS Chefs, trained culinary graduates, partner with cafeteria staff to feed kids real food, and WITS Coaches, trained fitness professionals, encourage schools to let kids play. They do this through: (1) the Coach for Kids program, wherein WITS Coaches work with schools to reinvent recess, train school staff and provide fitness education to students in order to promote physical activity and help kids reach the recommended 60 minutes of daily activity for adolescents, (2) the Cook for Kids program, wherein WITS Chefs work with schools to transform the cafeteria menu, train school staff and provide nutrition education to students in order to promote healthy eating, and (3) the Green for Kids program, which brings gardening into the classroom and cafeteria by allowing students and school staff to maintain a school garden and monitor plant growth and development. In partnership with the Office of SchoolFood’s Garden to Café program, WITS shares produce with cafeteria salad bars and at Garden to Café events.

Mission: Teaching kids healthy habits to learn and live better

Latest project/campaign: WITS has launched three new models of implementation this year to meet the needs of new communities. These include (1) Flagship, (2) CookCamp / BootCamp and (3) Workshops. Flagship is an intensive three-year phase out model where a WITS Chef and a WITS Coach work directly with the school community, providing hands-on training and teaching to create a healthier environment for children to learn and grow. CookCamp and BootCamp are intensive, up-front trainings for school cooks (CookCamp) and/or other school aides (BootCamp) to gain the skills necessary to implement WITS’ programs on their own. Workshops allow for customized programming in schools, from menu development to family events. Expanding their offerings has allowed WITS to increase their impact. Click here for a timeline of WITS’ development over the years.

Major Funding: Corporate Donors, Foundation Grants, Individual Funding, City Government

Profit/nonprofit: Nonprofit

Annual Budget: $3 million

Interesting fact about how it is working to positively affect the food system: Today WITS’ programs reach more than 60,000 students in 122 public schools daily. In the past 12 years, they have cooked more than 11 million school meals and led more than 54,000 hours of play.  The Cook for Kids program places trained culinary graduates in schools to partner with cafeteria staff and implement an Alternative Menu created by WITS and the NYC Office of School Food to provide schools with more meals cooked from scratch and healthier options.



31 West 125th Street

5th Floor

New York City, NY 10027

Core Programs:

Cook for Kids

Coach for Kids

Green for Kids

Number of staff: 49

Number of volunteers: 175

Areas served: Bronx, Brooklyn, Manhattan, Queens, Camden, Trenton, Dade and Broward County, Florida, and Novato school district in California

Year Started: 2005

Director: Nancy Easton

Contact Information: melissa@wellnessintheschools.org

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