Pilot Light Chefs

Download a copy of the Food Education Standards

Pilot Light is a Chicago-based nonprofit organization that connects chefs with teachers to create food-based classroom lessons that support children with the knowledge, attitudes, and skills they need to have healthy relationships with food.

Co-founded in 2010 by four notable chefs — Paul Kahan, Matthias Merges, Justin Large, and Jason Hammel — Pilot Light serves 17 schools, 81 classrooms, and over 2,300 K-12 students in underserved communities of Chicago, where 90 percent of students are minorities and 80 percent of families are low income. Making healthy choices is a challenge for students without access to fresh, affordable and well-prepared food, especially in Chicago, where the rates of childhood obesity are nearly twice the national estimate.

Pilot Light has developed a cohesive model for classroom food education, incorporating food as a lens for traditional subjects, such as Math, Reading, History, and Science. These Food Education Standards are a product of the Pilot Light food education model and Food Education Summit. These Standards have been developed by Pilot Light, in collaboration with community and education stakeholders, to further the important mission of deploying food education to schools throughout the city of Chicago and beyond.


Introduction to the Standards

While the variety of foods available to Americans is increasing, youth today are less likely to be educated about the cultivation and preparation of food and often do not understand how to connect to food’s role in our culture, relationships, history, and environment. A renewed emphasis on holistic and food education is necessary to encourage youth to develop the critical thinking skills necessary to inform healthy food choices. Schools are an ideal setting for the integration of food education into an academic setting, enriching the core curricular areas and further encouraging critical thinking in a manner both tangible and applicable to student’s daily lives. These Standards provide a straightforward framework for all stakeholders to integrate this learning throughout the school day. Check-out the Food Standards here.


Development of the Standards

Beginning in 2014, a set of 9 Food Education Standards (FES) were drafted by the Pilot Light staff through a process of analyzing existing health standards. Recognizing the need for diverse perspectives and expertise, Pilot Light committed to hosting its first Food Education Summit in 2017, which convened 25 experts and community members to further develop these Standards. In preparation, participants completed surveys about priorities for food education, which, during the two-day Summit, were refined through consensus-building activities into a list of standards and accompanying, age-appropriate K-12 competencies. The resulting standards and competencies encompass 31 themes, the most commonly endorsed being food choice, health, food production, food access, and culture. The FES were then reviewed and revised by a team of teachers through a series of 3 follow-up meetings and online blog feedback, eventually being condensed from 9 standards to the final 7 outlined in this document.

Through this thorough process of consensus-building with experts from multiple disciplines, as well as the perspective of community members and teachers, the Pilot Light FES provide evidenced-based standards that can be used across different school and community sociodemographics to further the reach of the Pilot Light educational model.


Utilizing the Standards

The following Standards documents were designed by a team of teachers knowledgeable in Pilot Light’s food education model, to provide detailed guidelines for curriculum development, instruction and assessment of food education in the classroom.

Each Standard is divided into measurable competencies by grade level bands: K-2, 3-5, 6-8 and 9-12. Within each grade level band, examples of parallel cross-curricular learning standards have also been identified to assist teachers in lesson development. Additionally, each Standard provides examples of grade-band appropriate examples of real-world experiences and sample lesson plans for reference and inspiration.


Authors and Acknowledgements

Teacher Development Team

Teacher Leadership

  • Vicki Drewa, Ray Elementary
  • Chandra Garcia-Kitch, Ray Elementary
  • Charles Rosentel, Pritzker College Prep
  • Luke Albrecht, Ray Elementary
  • Gabriel Hoerger, Disney II Elementary
  • Irene Metropulos, Disney II Elementary
  • Amy Peterson, Disney II Elementary
  • Richard Schrishuhn, Pritzker College Prep
  • Kristine Wilber, Disney II Elementary

Participants from the Food Summit:

  • John Allegrante, PHD, Professor, Teachers College at Columbia University
  • Whitney Bateson, MPH, RD, Director of Nutrition and Wellness, Chartwells K12
  • Shari Berland, MPA, Education Consultant
  • Deborah Burnet, MD, MA, Section Chief, General Internal Medicine, University of Chicago;
  • Medicine Vice-Chair for Faculty Development, University of Chicago
  • Bogdana Chkoumbova, Chief of Schools, Network 10 CPS
  • Chandra Garcia-Kitch, Pilot Light Teacher, Chicago Public Schools
  • William Hook, Principal, Chicago High School for Agricultural Sciences
  • Tynisha Jointer, LCSW, M.Ed, Behavioral Health Specialist, Chicago Public Schools
  • Pam Koch, EDD, RD, Executive Director, Laurie M. Tisch Center for Food, Education & Policy
  • Research; Associate Professor, Columbia University
  • David K. Lohrmann, PHD, MCHES, Professor and Chair, Indiana University School of Public Health
  • Matthias Merges, Co-Founder, Pilot Light Chefs; Chef/Owner, Folkart Restaurant Management
  • Erin Meyer, MS, RD, Executive Director, Spence Farm Foundation
  • Jeanne Nolan, Founder and President, Organic Gardener Ltd.
  • Joshua Perkins, Regional Executive Chef, Chartwells
  • Joann Peso M.Ed, RD, LDN, CHES, Director of Nutrition, Chicago Department of Public Health
  • Charles Rosentel, World History Teacher, Pritzker College Prep
  • Marshall Shafkowitz, Executive Dean, Washburne Culinary & Hospitality Institute
  • Alan Shannon, Midwest Public Affairs Director, USDA
  • Stephanie Shapiro-Berkson, Lecturer, University of Illinois at Chicago
  • Lindsey Shifley, Super Ambassador, Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution
  • Jim Slama, CEO, Family Farmed/Good Food EXPO
  • Tony Quartaro, Culinary Director, Apple Wise
  • Michael Quinn, PHD, Sr. Research Scientist and Social Psychologist, Dept of Medicine, UChicago
  • Carolyn Sutter, PHD, Postdoctoral Research Associate, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign
  • Jennifer Wildes, PHD, Associate Professor of Psychiatry & Behavioral Neuroscience; Director, Eating
  • Disorders Program, University of Chicago Medicine & Biological Sciences
  • Katie Wilson, PHD, SNS, President, KtConsulting


  • Pilot Light
  • Derek Douglas,  Vice President for Civic Engagement and External Affairs, University of Chicago Office of Civic Engagement
  • Jennifer Nudo, Student Assistant, The Community Programs Accelerator at the University of Chicago
  • Ryan Priester, Director of The Community Programs Accelerator at the University of Chicago

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