CPS Meals, on a Pathway to Progress

July 11, 2014

CPS Meals, on a Pathway to Progress

CPS Meals, on a Pathway to Progress Beginning with the 2012-2013 school year, Chicago Public Schools (CPS) devoted unprecedented time and energy to its school meal program. That year, the federal government significantly raised the nutritional standards for school meals. Faced with fiscal constraints and the need to shift school cultures in a healthier direction, CPS worked with HSC to convene groups of stakeholders and develop a comprehensive plan for achieving excellence in the school meal program. Read the resulting report, Pathways to Excellence in School Nutrition here.

But progress didn’t stop at the planning stage. As the district prepared to award a new food service contract last fall, the recommendations became even more important. Representing the stakeholders who worked together to identify the priority areas for the CPS meal program, illustrated in the Pathways report, HSC’s Rochelle Davis advocated that the new contractor address a few top priorities. These were: higher nutrition standards, local and sustainable food and improved kitchen facilities.

Last month, about a year after that initial presentation, Rochelle Davis again appeared before the Board of Education. This time, there was much to be proud of, as well as room for continued growth. Here’s a look at three important pathways mentioned in the report, as well as an update on their current status.

Pathway: Food + Health
Original goal: To offer nutritious school meals that are appealing to students.
Current status: CPS continues to maintain high nutrition standards. The district has been a nationwide leader in meeting the Gold standard of the HealthierUS School Challenge. And CPS has publicly supported the USDA’s standards despite recent attacks on these standards by Congress.

Pathway: Procurement
Original goal: To support the procurement of local and sustainably grown products. To find new products that are healthier and less processed.
Current status: The food service contract awarded by CPS contract required a continued commitment to local and sustainable food, including the expansion of this program to all CPS schools. The milestone for including all schools was reached last October. This year CPS purchased $3 million of local and sustainable food or 5 million pounds of food. And, this information is available to the public through a website.

Pathway: Facilities
Original goal: To have kitchen facilities that support the cooking of healthy and less processed meals.
Current status: CPS has 176 warming kitchens that needed to be upgraded. Of those, 22 sites have been transformed to serve cafeteria-style meals instead of “heat and serve” individual plates. As expected, student participation increased an average of 16 percent. 66 conversions are planned for next year. Ultimately, cafeteria-style meals will be more appealing to students, increasing meal program participation.

With progress made on all three of these priorities, CPS is well-positioned to continue leading the nation towards healthier school environments for all students.

HSC applauds CPS for taking steps toward even greater excellence in its school meal program, and we look forward to continue working with the district on furthering these goals.

View the full 2012-13 Pathways to Excellence in School Nutrition report.