CPS to increase cafeteria nutrition

April 7, 2010 6:39:27 PM PDT
Chicago Public Schools students are in for a huge overhaul of their breakfast and lunch menus. New nutrition standards announced Wednesday mean donuts and other fatty foods are out and whole grains, fruits and vegetables are in.

The new menu is comprised of healthier foods recommended by a group of dietitians and food service experts.

Whole grains will be served everyday at lunch where before there was no rule about offering fiber. And dark green or orange vegetables will be offered at least three times a week.

It's all part of the effort to put Chicago school meals on the road to a Washington-based gold standard of nutrition.

"The Chicago Public Schools firmly believes in the importance of serving our students healthy foods that sharpen their focus and give their growing bodies the fuel that they need in order for them to reach their full potential," said Barbara Eason-Watkins, chief educational officer, CPS.

The changes come on the heels of efforts over the last few years to improve breakfasts for the 120,000 CPS students that their first meal of the day in school.

Officials believe ramping up the nutritional value of lunch will raise student performance, just as the CPS says better breakfasts have in 70 percent of recipients. There's also hope nutrition awareness will rub off on parents.

"They too can adopt healthy lifestyles and we encourage them to join us in supporting healthy and nutritious choices for our schools and students," said Louise Esaian, nutrition support services, CPS.

CPS says its new menus will appeal to kids and dovetails with first lady Michelle Obama's efforts to get Americans to eat healthier and combat childhood obesity.

"The health of our nation and our economy and our national security and our communities depends on the health of our children," said Julie Mickelson, food and nutrition services, USDA.

CPS says they were prepared to spend $3 million to improve student menus but found that by concentrating on procuring locally grown produce and products all these changes won't cost taxpayers anything more -- putting the lie to the notion that eating better costs more.

"As manufacturers expand offerings to schools price points become low so you have got a demand happening and that is probably driving some of the cost down," said Esaian.

"I thought it was going to taste bad because it is nutritious but it tasted good at the end," said Jokebed Castaneda, 6th grader, McAulliffe Elementary.

Jokebed says she was not just saying that because her principal was looking on. Getting rid of nachos at lunch, she says, is something the kids thought should have happened a long time ago.

Eventually the hope with these improvements is to get CPS to win a Healthier Us School Challenge Gold Award, a program being pushed by the Obama administration. The distinction would bring even more federal money into Chicago schools to pay for student meals.