Six of the largest school districts in the United States have joined to share best practices and build a coalition to drive down their food costs down and increase their meal quality by forming the Urban School Food Alliance. The New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago, Miami-Dade, Dallas and Orange County (Orlando) districts purchase more than $530 million in food and food supplies annually and through the Alliance they plan to use that purchasing power not only to drive down food and supply costs but to encourage vendors to reformulate menu items that meet and exceed USDA guidelines. The school districts in the alliance served more than 460 million meals during the 2011-2012 school year, or 2,565,500 meals daily.
“Forming such a partnership is unprecedented,” says Michael Eugene, COO at Orange County Public Schools. “It’s an honor to be a part of an alliance that wants to move the needle when it comes to improving school food, while implementing eco-friendly practices.”
The Urban School Food Alliance first met last summer in Denver and has since met regularly by tele-conference before meeting in person in Miami the week of January 14. The food services directors from each of the districts share and review menu items to ensure that they provide access to meals that meet the following nutrient recommendations: whole grain products, low fat dairy, fresh produce, and lean protein with calorie consciousness in mind. Meals low in fat, sugar, and sodium are also a priority as is becoming more ecological by seeking out alternatives to polystyrene trays.
“We want to give a national voice to a healthier meal program where costs are contained,” says Lora Gilbert, senior director of Food and Nutrition Services for Orange County. “Our urban school districts face unique challenges and we need to find innovative ways to meet them.”
To show their solidarity in providing healthy meals, the Urban School Food Alliance schools will all serve the same lunch on Wednesday, March 20, including savory roasted chicken, brown rice with seasoned black or red beans, steamed green broccoli, fresh seasonal fruit, and milk.
In recent years, the school districts have put in place various innovative ways to provide access to school meals, including expanded options such as serving breakfast on campus as well as supper after school in order to meet the needs of students. In some of the member districts, nearly 90 percent of students qualify for free and reduced price meals.