Many parents today are clamoring for an improvement in their kids’ school lunch programs. It’s no surprise: lacking in nutrients and full of salt, fat, sugar and preservatives, school diets have been a contributing factor in the sharp rise of food-associated illnesses such as diabetes in the US.

There are numerous barriers to making the needed changes, however. School district budgets are at an all-time low. Cafeteria kitchens in schools are only prepared to heat food, not cook it. And last but not least, kids won’t eat unappealing food.

Al Baylacq, co-owner of Good Earth Natural Foods in Fairfax, California, encountered these and other problems eight years ago when he and his partner, Mark Squire, decided that fixing the school lunch problem would be a great way to give back to their community. “When I first started looking into it and how bad our standards and our foods were, it seemed like it was going to take ten years to make any changes,” Baylacq told Natural Vitality Kids. “It was a real challenge, and there was no book I could open and find out how to do a school lunch program. Everything was in the public sector. There might have been a day when private businesses were running school lunches, but not to any great degree because there’s just no money in it; it’s about covering your costs.”

Today, however, his organic school lunch program is a proven winner. “This is our eighth year, and it’s paying for itself,” Baylacq said. “It’s pretty successful. We went into it, not with the idea of making money, but really to give back and invest in our community. We now understand what teachers, parents or even a business like ours is up against in making changes where they really need to be made in food.”