January 17, 2013
Chicago Public Schools (CPS) today announced it is joining five of the largest school districts in the U.S. to promote best practices and build a coalition to drive down food service costs and while driving up quality and healthiness. CPS – together with school districts from New York City, Los Angeles, Miami-Dade, Dallas, Texas, and Orlando, Fla. – is joining the Urban School Food Alliance. The announcement was made in Miami where food service administrators from each district are meeting.
“This unprecedented partnership will create new opportunities for improving our food service operation and help us cut costs and redirect dollars to student learning,” said CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett. “The ultimate goal is to continue to enhance the health and wellness of our students and our communities.”
The Alliance intends to use its purchasing power to create economies of scale in procurement as well as work with food vendors to create menu items that will guarantee students will have access to nutritious meals that meet USDA standards. Altogether, the group procures more than $530 million in food and food service supplies annually and serves 462 million meals annually. CPS serves approximately 70 million breakfasts and lunches every year and purchases $109 million in food and food service supplies.
“A healthy environment in school helps our students succeed,” said Mayor Emanuel. “Chicago is leading the nation on many initiatives that support the health of our students and our residents, and this unique partnership adds to these efforts, helping to ensure that our students have healthy options in schools and learn healthy habits that will help them excel.”
Health, wellness and nutrition have been in the forefront of CPS actions in recent months, as the District has taken steps to expand Healthy CPS, a part of Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s Healthy Chicago initiative. CPS late last year adopted a new Healthy Snack and Beverage Policy which updated guidelines and set new standards for healthy food and drinks in schools across the District, including the food and drink offered in vending machines, and which also encourages schools to promote healthy options during in-school celebrations, as well as a Local Wellness Policy. And this school year, for the first time in almost three decades, all elementary school students have access to recess, a critical piece of Healthy CPS and the full school day, and an important part of helping students stay active, healthy and engaged at school.
Representatives of the six school districts began meeting last summer and have continued a dialogue via teleconference leading up to today’s announcement in Miami. The food service directors from each of the Alliance districts share and review menu items served to their students, with emphasis on whole grain products, low-fat dairy, fresh and fresh-frozen produce and lean protein. As a show of solidarity, the school cafeterias in all six cities on March 20 will serve the same lunch: roasted chicken, brown rice with seasoned black or red beans, steamed broccoli, fresh seasonal fruit and milk.
Three key cornerstones for the Alliance going forward include:
- Ecological solutions. Trays and utensils used in many school cafeterias are made of Styrofoam or plastic which are difficult or costly to recycle. The Alliance, through the volume it represents, hopes to create a market for cost-effective recyclable food service supplies. The majority of breakfasts and lunches in CPS are currently served on foam trays due to cost factors.
- Quality products. Last year, CPS purchased 1.2 million pounds of antibiotic-free chicken, which was freshly cooked in hundreds of cafeterias around the District and served to students at lunch. The menu item proved popular and continues to be served periodically. Through its purchasing muscle, the Alliance is hoping to create a market for similar non-traditional menu items.
- Best practices. For example, some Districts regularly offer special menus, such as those for vegetarians. Larger school districts face the question of how to creatively offer such menus without running the risk of over-purchasing or over-producing and avoiding costly waste.
Chicago Public Schools serves 403,000 students in 681 schools. It is the nation’s third-largest school district.