Chicken Takes Center Tray in Chicago Public School Cafeterias

October 18, 2011

by Mark Bishop, Vice President of Policy and Communcations

The headline reads “Celebrity TV Chef Creates Meal For CPS Students” and while Rachael Ray deserves a huge kudos for her work around school food, the real story here is the chicken!

The chicken? Yes, the chicken. 

Last week Chicago Public Schools served, for the first time in recent memory, fresh baked chicken in schools throughout the district. The chicken was prepared with a recipe created by celebrity chef Rachael Ray, and reports are that students loved the flavor. 

According to NBC, the student feedback was great: “I really like it.” “It tastes like heaven.” “I am ecstatic… I absolutely love it!” “It has more flavor than the average school lunch.”

While the celebrity chef brings star power to this story, I think the real star is the chicken. The district recently began ordering fresh chicken through the USDA’s commodity foods program. This is a big step in the world of school food, where most chicken is pre-cooked and heated rather than freshly baked. Fresh chicken will of course taste better, but it’s also better for you. With an ingredient label that reads just “chicken,” it has no sodium, no preservatives, no artificial additives — just like the chicken you’d make at home.

CPS recently set in place an order for more than one million pounds of fresh chicken leg quarters for use this school year. That’s enough chicken for CPS to serve twice a month for the rest of the year. It’s an important step for what it is: hundreds of thousands of healthy fresh whole meals. It’s also important for what it represents: a major step in overcoming barriers to fresh cooking for the school cafeteria. 

And in the school my son attends, the school dining manager told me that the kids loved it. While she said it requires more work than the pre-cooked chicken, she assured me that “the kids like it more, so it’s worth it.” 

Check out this story from NBC to see the kids’ reactions for yourself.