Chicago Public Schools’ Pathways to Excellence in School Nutrition

October 15, 2013  • 

In 2012-2013, two key advisory groups, one comprised of citywide stakeholders – including Yum-o! Director Andrew Kaplan – and one comprised of parents from across the district, met in collaboration with the Healthy Schools Campaign to provide input to Chicago Public Schools’ school food program. Their work focused on strategies for improving the healthfulness and sustainability of school food, encouraging students to enjoy the healthier menus, connecting the classroom and the cafeteria and supporting food service staff. These suggestions were organized into a report detailing ten pathways around excellence in school meal programs and resulting action plans entitled Chicago Public Schools’ Pathways to Excellence in School Nutrition, available here for download.

Putting words into action, a number of the recommendations from these advisory groups were incorporated into Chicago Public Schools’ (CPS) most recent request for proposals for food service management services and are now part of its recent contract with Aramak.

Three major recommendations from the advisory groups incorporated into the contract are as follows:

  • Upholding CPS’ commitment to high nutrition standards. Currently, CPS’ nutritional standards meet, and in some cases exceed, the Gold standard of the HealthierUS School Challenge. These standards call for more whole grains, increased servings and greater variety of fruits and vegetables, cereals with lower sugar and more whole grains, no donuts or pastries at breakfast and limited availability of less healthy items.
  • Expanding the local and sustainable purchasing program to all CPS schools. CPS has purchased more than $4.2 million in produce from regional farmers over the past three school years, and also made a major purchase of chicken raised without antibiotics for the school meal program from farmers in nearby Indiana. However, these two programs only impact two-thirds of CPS schools. Now, under the new contract, all students will receive this fresh, healthy food.
  • Transitioning the model for schools that receive pre-plated, vended meals to a traditional, bulk service meal program. Currently, students in 176 schools receive pre-plated frozen meals. Under this new contract, most of these schools will be transitioned to a more traditional cafeteria program, which will make healthy food more appealing to students.

By the numbers, this contract, which is the largest food service management contract in North America, will actually reduce Chicago Public Schools’ costs by more than $12 million annually while still incorporating these major improvements!

In addition, other elements that CPS is excited about include Aramark’s plans to partner with FarmLogix, a company that specializes in local supply chain development, which will enable CPS to increase access to locally grown produce, allow for tracking of where foods are locally procured and even allow students at individual schools to learn about the farmer who grew their food. Understanding the importance of food presentation and the dining experience, Aramark will also work to improve the food presentation and the cafeteria setting with comprehensive training for staff and a plan for marketing healthful foods to students.

CPS is also launching “Learn Well,” a district-wide initiative to support wellness and maintaining its commitment to school gardens and the “Eat What Your Grow” effort, along with its involvement in the School Food FOCUS regional learning lab. The advisory groups are continuing to meet as well, furthering discussions around understanding the community’s priorities around less processed food and developing a comprehensive program to create dining centers of excellence.

Visit the Healthy Schools Campaign website to learn how parents, stakeholders and school administrators are continuing to establish a model for working together to develop and implement plans for healthy schools across Chicago!