In an effort to participate in Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move!” campaign against the rising childhood obesity epidemic, New York City–based fast casual Chop’t Creative Salad Company announced that it is partnering with a nonprofit that brings healthier food alternatives to New York City public schools.

Colin McCabe, cofounder of Chop’t, says that through the partnership with Wellness in the Schools (WITS), the fast-casual chain is helping to improve nutrition at the P.S. 65 Mother Hale Academy school in the Bronx.

“[The chef there] said their knives don’t cut, they don’t have any cutting boards, all of their herbs are dried herbs from fives years ago, and they don’t have any good olive oil,” McCabe says. “We found out what she needed specifically and we supplied that for them.”

Chop’t, which donated $25,000 to the school, is also helping it design new menu options for the kids, including its salad and wrap menu options, as well as items like vegetarian foods and grass-fed beef.

“The goal is to introduce more scratch cooking in the kitchen, not just heating and serving chicken nuggets or processed foods, which does have to work within the parameters of school food–approved list of ingredients,” says Catharine Lederer, director of food and beverage for Chop’t.

McCabe and Chop’t cofounder Tony Shure attended the First Lady’s “Chefs Move to Schools” speech on the White House lawn this past summer and were inspired to participate. McCabe says WITS was a good fit because it is based in the company’s hometown. 

“One message that we got when we went to the White House and heard Michelle Obama was, ‘Hey, this is all great, we need to do this on a national level, but all of you need to go back and do it in your own backyard for it to really mean anything,’” McCabe says.

Chop’t is participating in WITS’ “Cook for Kids” initiative, in which elementary schools are assigned a professional chef to help prepare nutritious meals and educate students, teachers, and parents about healthy eating. It is the first fast-casual chain participating with WITS.  

McCabe says quick-serve chains are starting to move on childhood nutrition because consumers are starting to demand healthier options.

“A lot’s been done in the last five years … that’s increased awareness,” he says. “I think it’s a problem you’ll see people chipping away at and making small, right decisions. Right now, especially with Obama signing the [Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act], that’s a big step in this direction. I think you’ve seen on the government level and also on the restaurant level an increased awareness and efforts.”

Being at the forefront of a movement like “Let’s Move!” is important to Chop’t, McCabe says, because it has taken that awareness of nutrition issues and put it front of mind with consumers.

“Now that we’re talking about it more, all of our customers are becoming aware of our work with WITS,” he says. “It’s creating consciousness, not just about Chop’t and the importance of good food and eating right, but more importantly, about the way children are being fed in schools in this country.”

By Sam Oches

Back of House, Charitable Giving, Fast Casual, Menu Innovations, News, Restaurant Operations, Chopt