“Educaterers” Serving Real Food for Real Kids receive Premier’s Award for Agri-Food Innovation

Things looking a bit different?
Nope, you're not on the wrong site – we're updating our look and content! Keep your eyes peeled for more changes!

Author: Josie Di Felice

Posted: December 1, 2014

Categories: Edible Education Network / Edible Education Project Profiles / GoodFoodBites

RFRK - eating fruits at the farmMotivated by an evident lack of awareness surrounding the importance of feeding children nutritious and delicious food, Lulu Cohen-Farnell founded Real Food for Real Kids (RFRK) in 2004. Having grown up in Paris, France, it’s easy to see where this instinctive passion was founded in Lulu, growing up in a family where going to the market, cooking and sharing a healthy meal made from scratch was a daily routine, or “a raison d’etre.” It’s something that’s embraced and celebrated by french culture, Lulu explains.

Eventually, having a son of her own, and wanting him to have access to healthy, fresh food, is what inspired Lulu to make a genuine difference here in Ontario with RFRK, which quickly became a family affair when her husband David Farnell joined in fulfilling the mission.

Lulu tells us that the very reason why she started RFRK 10 years ago is the same today: Enabling and inspiring a lifetime of healthy eating, and helping families embrace real food… resulting in a healthier, happier life.

And it all started with their son, Max. While searching for an ideal childcare centre for him, Lulu and her husband discovered a shocking consistency. Regardless of neighbourhood, price, style, or educational philosophy, every centre they visited served the same type of food: menus based on processed, frozen and canned convenience foods. Very little fresh food, and almost nothing cooked from scratch.

Not wanting Max’s palate and body to base its earliest memories on these kinds of foods, Lulu made and sent snacks and lunches with Max everyday. The caregivers at the centre spoke so highly of his food that the centre’s director began to notice. “She shared the same vision as me,” Lulu explains, “one that recognized the benefits of feeding kids real meals everyday!”

Lulu felt it was clear that the catering program these kids needed didn’t exist yet. Rather than processed, frozen, and canned, they thought that little bodies would be better built with meals that focused on fresh, whole, healthy, and Ontario-grown foods: they called this model Real Food for Real Kids. The premise was to provide childcare centres and schools with a daily delivery of fully cooked lunches, prepared snacks, with fresh fruits and vegetables. All of it would be free of artificial colouring and flavours, fake sweeteners, factory-farmed meats, and fillers of any kind.

They began with childcare centres, and from there, followed Max to elementary school and founded the Real Food Lunch Club. They first approached the school boards and applied to become an approved vendor.

“Give a (wo)man a fish and you feed him/her for a day. Teach a (wo)man to fish, and you feed him/her for a lifetime.”

Lulu explains that this is what drives them. And to that aim, they’ve gone a step beyond, using as much locally and sustainably-grown / produced foods, cooking fresh-from-scratch daily.

“We help cultivate good food values, expand kids’ palates, and aim to enhance the nutritional IQs of all of our stakeholders (kids, parents, caregivers, and their communities). We help families reconnect with real food, their origins, and the amazing farmers who grow them. We inspire parents to make friends with real ingredients in their kitchen and play with foods to create beautiful nutritious meals for their families,” Lulu shares.

RFRK aims to raise awareness about the importance of a healthy diet and good food habits at an early age. They inspire and help parents teach their kids about real food and how to cook, so that when they grow up, cooking is a part of their daily routine, and they won’t need to rely on unhealthy, highly processed packaged foods, compromising their health (and taste buds)!

Lulu says, “some call us ‘Educaterers’, others call us back for second and third helpings of hands-on, entertaining real food education.” Every mouthful is educational and teaches kids to appreciate all the different flavors they get exposed to on a daily basis. It is with those happy, healthy foundations, that they hope the kids will build the life-long habits of healthy eating and sustainable living.

A decade after its inception, RFRK is proud to be preparing meals and snacks for over 10,000 kids daily in childcare centres, schools and camps throughout the GTA. Real Food for Real Kids globally-inspired recipes are deliciously inventive and innovative, and you can try them at home by subscribing to their Recipe Club (you may have noticed we also often feature their recipes in our monthly newsletters)!RFRK

Curious how Lulu brought RFRK to life? Check out our Q&A with Lulu below!

How is your program funded?
RFRK is a privately-owned social enterprise on a mission to change the way people eat and perceive food! More importantly, the Real Food Team believes that everyone should have access to real food. So, in 2009, RFRK launched its Real Food Forward (RFF) program, turning a little into a lot. This program leverages donations from parents, community members and RFRK, and turns it into free or subsidized school lunches for kids that need a helping hand in the GTA.

Kids who are well fed are better able to learn. RFF keeps eating nutritious food within reach, and brings the fundamental experience of sharing a meal family-style back into schools.

At every participating Lunch Club school, for every 20 kids/staff enrolled in the program, RFRK will feed a less fortunate kid for free

How did you gain champions?
Our champions are often parents or school/child-care staff who spread the word to their friends, family and professional colleagues. Once they see the positive health impact of our program on kids and adults alike, they can’t help but get others to join the movement!

We also have quite an engaged online community on Facebook and Twitter, who continuously point real food advocates in our direction.

We’re making a big difference, one belly at a time!

What tips do you have for others doing this kind of initiative?
Have a clear vision, mission, values & goals, and make a sound business plan to achieve them. Most of all, never give up! Every challenge and bump in the road is a lesson learned.

Changing policy around food served to kids, and advocating for policies that protect children’s health and well-being against junk food marketed to kids are very important actions we take every time we have the opportunity.

What are/were your biggest challenge(s)?
Having to follow food policies that are based on quantity versus quality – driven by industry interest rather than human health best interest – has its challenges, along with maintaining exceptional quality standards while working with extremely restricted budgets. But, we’re up for the challenge!

What factors were critical to your success?
Willingness to take measured financial risks and a ‘do what it takes’ attitude. By staying true to our original vision, values and mission, RFRK has become a household name over the past 10 years.

A recent, memorable testimonial…

“We think this is a brilliant initiative! We will definitely pass on information to kids and to parents. I have a cute story for you….

In my casa, we all sit together for lunch – 16 kids and 2 adults. We encourage lunch to be a leisure, social time so we tend to chat a lot during our hour… The children invented this game where they ask questions like “Who likes spaghetti and meatballs” “Who likes chocolate?” and the children respond by putting up their hand. One of the older girls regularly asks “who likes Real Food for Real Kids?” and all their hands go up 🙂

We tend to have the children over a 3-year period and I can testify that over time, they really have opened up to new tastes. We have the 1 bite rule – they have to take 1 bite to establish an opinion on whether or not they like the food – otherwise, they cannot tell us they do not like something and this applies with every meal since our tastes are always changing. I have seen picky eaters transformed!

We are grateful you are out there doing the work you do.”

RFRK Staff

Congratulations to RFRK for being selected as one of the 50 recipients of the 2014 Regional Premier’s Award for Agri-Food Innovation Excellence!


Lulu Cohen-Farnell
Real Food for Real Kids, Founder


This profile is part of a series of profiles for the Ontario Edible Education Network.
Be sure to check out more profiles from the Network here!