It's Possible for All NYC School Meals to be Cooked from Scratch, Report Supported by New York Community Trust , New York State Health Foundation and Joyce and Irving Goldman Family Foundation Finds
Preparing fresh, marinated chicken from scratch may not seem like a big deal at home. Now add in hundreds of schoolchildren, federal nutrition guidelines, and a kitchen that needs updating, and it becomes a gargantuan task.
Still with the right investments in equipment, supplies, and training, it’s doable, even for a school system that feeds about 940,000 free meals a day. That was a key finding of a report released Tuesday night from the Tisch Center for Food, Education, and Policy at Columbia University’s Teachers College.
“I think the biggest takeaway is that scratch cooking is indeed possible in New York City schools, which wasn’t assumed,” said Pamela Koch, the principal investigator of the evaluation, which was funded by the city department of education, and donors including the New York Community Trust, the New York State Health Foundation, and the Joyce and Irving Goldman Family Foundation.
Researchers behind the report examined a pilot program at five public Bronx schools that served meals made from raw ingredients, rather than the standard reheated or processed foods served in most city cafeterias. (Several schools use alternative menus that offer some foods prepared from scratch, such as slow-roasted carrots and vegetable rice.) The pilot, highlighted by The New York Times earlier this year, was a partnership between the city’s Office of Food and Nutrition Services, or OFNS, and Brigaid, a school food consulting company.
The goal of the program evolved over time — from seeing how individual kitchens could implement scratch-based cooking to figuring out how to introduce some of these meals across the city while adding more schools to the pilot.
And it seems the idea has caught on: In September eight other menus from which schools can choose included food prepared from scratch, such as peach BBQ chicken and chicken dumplings with vegetable fried rice.
But expanding scratch-cooking for all city schools is only possible with “serious” city investments, the report found. That includes updating kitchen infrastructure where needed, training staff, and coordinating logistics, such as ordering supplies, and promoting school meals — all while continuing to follow federal and city nutrition guidelines for school food. Even having the right dishwasher that can properly clean pans that have touched raw animal protein is a detail to consider, said Claire Raffel, deputy director of the Tisch Center.
The city is adding more schools to the scratch cooking pilot this year, said Miranda Barbot, a spokeswoman for the education department, but she did not specify how many or which ones. She said the city has “been successful in using the recipes we develop in these kitchens to enhance the menu citywide,” and the school system is continuing to tweak menus based on feedback, including from students...