Women like Morena Leite and Lidiane Barbosa, each with their own project, strive for children to eat better in schools all over the country

Rafaela Polo

Anyone who knows the Brazilian schools reality is aware that they unfortunately do not always provide quality food to students. In general, the rule is an excess of ultra-processed foods and a small variety of ingredients and preparations, especially in public institutions. But some chefs have been trying to change that reality in public and private schools across the country.


Janaína Rueda, chef from Bar da Dona Onça in downtown São Paulo, did one of the most recognized works in this area. For two years, the chef commanded a project called Cooks for Education alongside the São Paulo state government. In the project, she started to redesign the menu of part of the public schools in the city of São Paulo and to train school cooks.

The schools started to consume organic products, banned ultra-processed products and rethought recipes so that their food would be delicious, healthy and nutritious, all of this under the chef’s curatorship.

Janaína trained around 1600 school cooks during this period. However, the initiative was interrupted without prior notice. The chef spoke about the years in which she dedicated herself to Cooks for Education in an article published in the newspaper Folha de S. Paulo. “I am here to help transform our kids’ diet and I am still available to pursue this goal. While school meals are not state policy, and not only from one government, I’m afraid that the actions we’ve taken may become ephemeral events and we will live forever  as if we were on a boat in which the captain doesn’t know where to go, nor his objectives and, in the end, we wreck”, she wrote.


Five years ago, chef Lidiane Barbosa decided to do something with her culinary knowledge to help others. She was already teaching, but she wanted more. And that was how she ended up inside a public school, giving workshops on food for school cooks, children and parents.

The project has been multiplied with lectures across the country, until the chef decided to transform the initiative into the NGO Crescer & Semear, in 2017, with which she started to dedicate herself entirely to the idea of helping children and parents to eat better.

Born in São Paulo, she now lives in Blumenau and started to fight for space in public schools in the city. With alarming obesity rates reaching 80% of children in public schools in the country, Lidiane started an internet campaign, with the support of the community, to convince the mayor of her project’s importance.“We started in January 2018. We already act in 13 of the 128 schools in the city, as they are the ones with outsourced meals. We were able to reach 4,500 children aged 4 to 14 years. But our main focus is the cooks, because we know that through them we could change everyone’s daily lives ”, says Lidiane.

The project has expanded throughout the country without public resources but with private support. In Santa Catarina, it continues active in Blumenau and also with part of the students from the city of Indaial (Santa Catarina), as long as it fits in the budget. “We are in the process of attracting social investment,” says Lidiane, who has also been able to put Crescer & Semear inside the Instituto Reação, by judo athlete Flávio Canto, in Rio de Janeiro.


Private schools are also paying attention to the school food. Chef Morena Leite, from Capim Santo (in São Paulo), will be signing the lunch and snacks for students at Colégio São Luiz, in São Paulo, starting next year.

Morena will be responsible for the school’s canteen and for all that refers to food in the institution. Her goal is to offer more healthy options and also work with affective memories related to the food.

“I believe that our taste is linked to our personality. The way we deal with food is a reflection of how we deal with life. Food for me is affection, it is compassion, it is culture, it is communion, it is connecting ”, says chef Morena Leite explaining her new project.