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NYC School Lunches on Chopping Block

The lunch menu may be getting thinner at New York City schools next year.

Schools where students have three hot-meal choices a day will begin offering two, and those where there are two hot choices will cut to one under a budget proposal being considered by the Bloomberg administration. Combined with a plan to cut the number of schools where all the students get free lunches, the proposal is projected to save the city $23.7 million a year.

The idea is leaving a bad taste in some parents’ mouths.

“This is a dramatic reversal to all the inroads that parents and food activists have been trying to make with regards to school lunch,” said Elizabeth Puccini, a parent of a child at Children’s Workshop School in the East Village and founder of NYC Green Schools, a coalition of parents trying to make schools more environmentally friendly, in part by addressing food issues.

The Department of Education serves 870,000 meals a day among more than 1,500 schools and has worked for years to increase healthy choices for students. Among the changes: replacing white bread, whole milk and white-flour pasta with whole wheat bread, skim milk and whole-grain pasta. An extra 90 salad bars were added to the schools this year. Baked fries have replaced French fries, and the department hired a chef to help reformulate menu items with fewer calories and fat.

Ms. Puccini is concerned about the city’s plan to cut 276 food-service workers at a time, she said, when many kitchens are already too understaffed to promote healthy-food choices. Ms. Puccini said she has observed a trend where activist parents at low-poverty schools have been able to affect big changes in lunch programs, while high-poverty schools’ meals are generally unhealthy. “I think what is developing is a very unfair system,” she said. “It will become a real food-justice issue.”

A spokeswoman for the Department of Education said the changes “will improve efficiency,” adding that the agency has “been improving the quality of meals since 2004.”

Not all parents agree that more than one choice is best. “What’s the difference if they are offering breaded chicken with 30 ingredients or breaded mozzarella with 40 ingredients?” said Bill Telepan, a public-school parent on the Upper West Side and owner of the restaurant Telepan. He said he thinks it’s “great” that the Department of Education is limiting choices because it will cut down on waste and save money, which may be redirected toward creating healthier meals from scratch.

Mr. Telepan is involved in a nonprofit organization that is working with New York City schools to help them become better at creating such meals. His program is safe: the organization, Wellness in the Schools, gets private and corporate funding.

“Cutting down on food choices is a tragedy and its outrageous,” said Gale Brewer, a City Council member who represents the Upper West Side. “Kids are picky and now they may not eat.”

(Source: Wall Street Journal)

One Response

  1. What’s wrong with brown bagging? That’s what most grownups do. Better to teach children to read and do math.

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