Pathways to Excellence in School Food: Parent Engagement

July 23, 2013

Here’s another great blog inspired by Pathways to Excellence in School Nutrition. Learn more about involving parents and the broader community in improving school meals and increasing engagement.

Over the next few weeks, we will be presenting a series of blogs inspired by the Pathways to Excellence in School Nutrition, a new report from Healthy Schools Campaign outlining 10 pathways and concrete action plans around excellence in school food. This report and the action plans were a result of meetings of two School Food Advisory Groups convened by HSC and Chicago Public Schools, one of parents and one of community stakeholders. Read more about the report and download it here

The next pathway we're highlighting is Community Engagement, with a goal of involving CPS parents and the broader community in the efforts to improve school meals by providing engagement opportunities, including educational opportunities that will raise awareness, understanding and support for the school meals program. Angelique Harris was involved in both of CPS and HSC’s School Food Advisory Groups, and shares her experiences.


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Angelique Harris has always been involved with her daughter’s school life. But when she heard her daughter and her friends complaining about the food they were being served at school, she decided to work with the school and the principal to make some changes and improve accountability. Harris was particularly concerned that the food at her daughter’s South Side school was delivered to the school frozen, then reheated and served to students in prepackaged pods—the institutional version of TV dinners. 

In light of her involvement in her school and community, Harris was appointed to the newly created School Food Advisory Group. Harris has served on both of HSC and CPS’ School Food Advisory Groups, one for parents and one for members of the community.

“For parents, learning what they can do and understanding what their children are eating at school is so important,” Harris says. “The council empowers them and helps them learn how the system works, so they can bring information back to their own schools.”

At the Advisory Group meetings, Harris and other parents have been able to get their questions answered, learn about key resources on school food, including materials on the Chicago Public Schools website and gain a working understanding of the school food program. Parents develop a sense of CPS’ nutritional standards, as well as why those standards are in place, which has been important for parents to stay informed and engaged.

“Kids will complain that there’s not enough salt in their food, and parents will bring that to the table,” Harris says. “But at these meetings, we can outline the USDA guidelines on nutritional content, including salt, and they can understand the limitations and nutritional content and work with that.”

She says the response to the committee has been transformative. After receiving tools from the advisory group leaders, parents became much more engaged and with a positive, ready outlook on school food. Parents have contributed a number of outside-the-box ideas.

Parents also have the opportunity to share their concern with CPS officials and provide input into Nutrition Support Services priorities. For example, Harris shared her concern about how food is served in her daughter’s school. She learned that this food service delivery model is used at 175 other schools. Other parents from those schools shared Harris’ concerns.

CPS has taken this seriously and is working to transition warming equipment to meet the new service delivery model. And recently, when Chicago Public Schools announced their new school dining contract, one of the goals included in their Request For Proposal and later integrated into the contract was the transition of food service at schools with the pre-packaged meals to a cafeteria-style service, which would be more appealing to students.