Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Chicago Chefs Help Bring to Light the Obstacles to Introducing Healthy Foods to CPS Lunchrooms

With the passage of the Healthy, Hunger-free Kids Act earlier this month, many of those advocating for the introduction of healthy, fresh foods to kids in the lunchroom have been re-energized and re-inspired to continue their work to make changes in the lunchroom. But it’s not just isolated pockets of society, or a handful of organizations finding new inspiration with the passage of this bill, as shows. In a recent article by Chicago Tribune writer Monica Eng, the process of getting healthy, freshly prepared foods onto CPS lunch tables for one of these groups, the Chicago chef based Pilot Light program, is described.

Visiting a Chicagoland school lunchroom this past fall, the Pilot Light program chefs were determined to use their skills to deliver tasty, healthful meals to replace the processed, pre-made foods that they saw the children were being offered. Working together to plan a day of demonstrations and a Thanksgiving-themed lunch for the children of Disney II Elementary Magnet School, the program seemed to be off to a great start.

However, amidst the excitement among school faculty and parents, the Chicago Public School System administration put the day’s events on hold to discuss exactly what these chefs were setting out to do. In the end, CPS allowed the event to take place as a “tasting” rather than a full-fledged “lunch,” offering the chefs’ culinary offerings alongside regular CPS lunch fare. And while Pilot Light chefs offer a wealth of ideas and vehicles in which to incorporate recipes for fresh and healthy lunch options for kids, CPS administrators have pointed out the contractual and budgetary constraints, but are open to ideas and input from Pilot Light.

While this effort was a valiant one by the chefs of the Pilot Light program, the reaction excitement and apprehension that they received from parents and faculty, and administration, respectively, was not a first. The obstacles that the program faced in making their non-CPS contracted food available to children is what happens in districts all over the country, and is something that we at the Organic School Project are very familiar with. As Monica Eng reported in an article this fall, when Chef Greg Christian requested that the food grown by children in their Alcott elementary school garden be served in the schools cafeteria for lunch, district administrators denied the request on the grounds that the food wasn’t safe, as the food was not approved or supplied by the CPS contracted foodservice provider, Chartwells.

We at the Organic School Project think that this most recent article is great at illustrating the process, which can be difficult at times, in getting healthy foods into schools. While the passion and creativity to bring this food into the lunchroom is far from lacking, the administrative and contractual elements required to make these changes is a bit harder to work around, as this article illustrates well.

Stay tuned for our exclusive interview with the writer of this article, Chicago Tribune reporter Monica Eng.

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