Largest school districts in the U.S. unite to drive food costs down and quality up

MIAMI, Jan. 17, 2013 – For the first time ever, the largest school districts in the U.S. announced today that they have banded together to share best practices and to build a coalition to drive food costs down and quality up, ultimately giving students healthy options for school meals. The districts have formed the Urban School Food Alliance, which includes the school districts of New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago, Miami-Dade as well as those in Dallas, Texas and Orlando, Fla. The group, which procures more than $530 million in food and food supplies annually, aims to use its purchasing power to help drive down costs of food and supplies and to have vendors reformulate menu items to ensure that students continue to receive delicious and nutritious meals daily that exceed USDA guidelines. The school districts in the alliance served more than 460 million meals during the 2011-2012 school year. That’s 2,565,500 meals daily.

“Forming such a partnership is unprecedented,” says Rick Boull’t, chief operating officer at Los Angeles Unified School District. “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 today’s in-person meeting in Miami. The food services directors from each of the school 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 that when prepared are calorie conscious, and low in fat, sugar and sodium. In addition to creating a purchasing powerhouse, the coalition is working to be more ecological by looking for alternatives to poly-styrene trays.

“We want to give a national voice to a healthier meal program where costs are contained,” says Eric Goldstein, chief executive officer of School Support Services for the New York City Department of Education, who spearheaded this alliance. “Our urban school districts face unique challenges and we need to find innovative ways to meet them.”

To show solidarity in providing healthy meals, the Urban School Food Alliance will be serving the same lunch at all six school districts on Wednesday, March 20, 2013. The menu includes 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 implemented innovative ways to provide access to school meals including expanded options for reaching more students with breakfast on campus as well as supper after school in order to meet the needs of students. In some of the districts, close to 90 percent of the student body qualifies for free and reduced price meals as a significant number of families live in poverty.

“Ultimately, the role of school food services has expanded beyond serving just lunches,” says Carol Chong, director of Food and Menu Management at Miami-Dade County Public Schools. “Providing students with nutritious meals assures that students are prepared to meet the academic challenges of the day. Hunger should not be a reason for low performance in the classroom.”

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