Believe it or not, we’re less than a month away from the first day of school for more than 380,000 Chicago Public Schools (CPS) students. Over the past few years, CPS has taken significant steps to continue being a national leader in providing healthy school meals.
And the district will implement and strengthen several initiatives this year to ensure that students are getting fresher, healthier food than last year.
Earlier this summer, we reported that CPS will only serve chicken that has never been treated with antibiotics to its students starting this school year. For several years, CPS has purchased antibiotic-free chicken from a local producer, but the district has upped its commitment. The chicken drumsticks from its current producer meet this higher standard.
The district is also strengthening its Farm to School program, which links the classroom, school garden and dining center. This program helps students build a relationship with healthy, fresh produce.
One way it’s doing that is through a new wellness policy requirement that all schools with a garden, such as our Space to Grow schoolyards, to become Eat What You Grow certified. The certification means the food grown in the school’s learning garden can be incorporated into the cafeteria. Not only does the program allow students to eat fresh fruits and vegetables grown right on their own campus, it also teaches students lessons about nutrition and food production in a way that only hands-on learning can. The Office of Student Health and Wellness is aiming to certify 50 schools every year until all schools with gardens have been certified.
The district has also committed to integrating the Illinois Harvest of the Month featured menu item into its program. The Illinois Harvest of the Month is a program through the Illinois Farm to School Network that provides activities and resources around a specific local item every month. CPS students might learn about local bell peppers in September and local beets in February. CPS is also going to host monthly farmer visits.
When students participate in growing food, they are more likely to try and enjoy these fresh items. When students meet local farmers and taste their products, they are more likely to choose those items in the school dining center.
We’re excited to see all the progress CPS has made on school food, and we’re excited to see these new initiatives take off this year.