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Published in Print: June 9, 2004, as N.Y.C. Culinary Campaign Feeds Meals Effort

N.Y.C. Culinary Campaign Feeds Meals Effort

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The New York City school system has hired its first executive chef in an ongoing drive to boost student participation in its meal programs with healthier and more appealing cafeteria fare.

At the same time, the 1.1-million-student district announced that it had served roughly 1.5 million more breakfasts through February of this academic year than it had during the same period last school year.

District officials say the developments reflect the school system’s "School Food Revolution," a campaign that aims to "improve organizational efficiency and reduce costs" and "support academic achievement through improved nutrition and better food."

Toward those ends, the district has hired new leadership for its food- service division, adopted improved nutritional standards, and redesigned student eating areas to make them more inviting.

Jorge Leon Collazo was named the executive chef for the New York City schools last month. A former chef instructor at the New England Culinary Institute in Montpelier, Vt., Mr. Collazo will earn $125,000 a year for responsibilities that include developing recipes and menus, improving food presentation, working with food manufacturers to raise nutritional standards, and overseeing professional development and training for food-service workers.

800,000 Meals a Day

"We’re serving at least 800,000 meals a day—we need to prepare and package those meals in a way that’s attractive to kids, especially older kids, because they have a lot of other options," said Marty Oestreicher, the chief executive of the district’s office of school support services.

The jump in student participation in the district’s breakfast program is driven, in large part, by the decision to offer all students—regardless of income—a free first meal of the day, said David Berkowitz, the executive director of school food.

"We’ve gotten rid of the stigma of a free meal, because there are no tickets" for students who qualify for free or reduced-price meals, Mr. Berkowitz said.

Mr. Oestreicher agreed. "That’s a big thing with the older kids," he said. "Our biggest increase in participation [in the breakfast program] has been among high school kids."

The district has also increased participation with a "grab and go" breakfast program at some schools, where meals are brought out to students who would rather wait outside school buildings before classes than go indoors.

"Our gains in the breakfast program have been a phenomenal success any way you measure it," Mr. Berkowitz said. "The challenge now is to build up the lunch program," where participation rates have remained stagnant.

Vol. 23, Issue 39, Page 10

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