We've previously celebrated the change in the New York City Public Schools lunch program that made lunch free for all students, removing the "free lunch" stigma from those students whose access to no-cost meals set them apart from their classmates. Breakfast, lunch, and after school meals are all now free for all New York City public school students. But there have been other changes happening in what NYC children are eating in school.
Efforts are underway to have food offerings better reflect the diversity of the City's 1.1 million students, in over 1,700 public schools. NYC Public Schools serves over 940,000 meals each day. The goal is to provide healthier options while offering appetizing choices that children will actually eat. Uneaten food means children are not getting the nutrition they need, which can impact their alertness and energy in class. And food dumped in the trash adds to the problem of waste management, something the NYC Department of Education is working to address by encouraging zero waste and effective recycling.
The first step in creating tasty, healthy meals takes place in the NYC Public Schools test kitchen, located in Long Island City. It is here that a staff of more than 15 chefs creates menu items and, as noted in a piece in the NY Daily News, tests them on groups of 300 students several times each year. The threshold for adding an item to the menu is approval by 80% of the student taste testers. Among menu changes over the past few years is the elimination of deep frying, saturated fat, and high fructose corn syrup and the introduction of Asian and Cajun spices and a number of organic ingredients. Pilot programs introducing halal and kosher foods are also being tried.
In addition to being appealing to their "customers," the student diners, those developing school menus have a number of other considerations, including ease of preparation in individual school kitchens and availability of ingredients in bulk or through federal food supplies. It can take over two years for a new menu item to make it to school cafeterias throughout the city. So, the next time you stare into your refrigerator, freezer, or pantry and try to figure out what to cook for dinner, you might want to consider that it is far more difficult to feed a "family" of close to one million than it is to figure out what to feed your own family tonight.