Chicago Public Schools Celebrates National School Lunch Week Oct. 10-13
10 October 2023
District offers taste testings and Farm-to-School events as part of ongoing efforts to increase engagement
CHICAGO – Chicago Public Schools (CPS) is proud to provide free healthy school meals for all students, across all schools, continually test new menu items, engage with students, and even tap Chicago’s rich culinary community. As the District celebrates National School Lunch Week Oct. 10-13, several schools will be offering taste testing opportunities as part of ongoing efforts to elevate students’ voice and feedback in the District’s meal program.
“Hungry children can’t focus, they can’t learn,” said CPS CEO Pedro Martinez. “I’m proud of our District's efforts to not only serve 240,000 to 250,000 free meals daily through school-based breakfast and lunch programs but also to engage with students about how to improve our menu items.”
Last year the Office of Nutrition Support Services conducted 40 sample menu tastings across the District. Among the items sampled were blueberry smoothies, baked potato with chili and cheese, Asian noodle salad, chicken ham frittata, pierogies, cheeseburger pizza, breakfast tacos, veggie pasta salad, BBQ tofu, chilaquiles and other menu options. The District conducted an additional 19 menu item tastings during summer 2023 in advance of the 2023-24 School Year.
As a result of those tastings, the District has added a variety of new breakfast and lunch options for the students going into the new school year, including an aloha chicken bowl, biscuits and gravy, turkey barbacoa, spicy honey popcorn chicken, and a spicy tzatziki beef gyro. Several District schools will offer additional menu tastings with students this week.
The District’s implementation of nutrition standards goes beyond the USDA’s requirements to ensure students get the nutrients they need in fresh formats. CPS consistently works with schools and students to meet their nutritional and dietary needs. The District provides free meals — both breakfast and lunch — at all schools with an emphasis on reducing unnecessary or concerning ingredients and increasing the use of seasonal and culturally-relevant ingredients.
CPS adopted the Good Food Purchasing Program (GFPP) principles and year over year continues to strive to improve the District’s standing in each value category (e.g. local economies, equity, transparency, animal welfare, valued workforce, environmental sustainability, animal welfare and nutrition, among others). While CPS has done well working with local economies and nutrition categories, the goal is to work with more diverse and smaller producers.
“As a District, we hope to build upon our success through more local GFPP program collaboration and data gathering,” said Charles Mayfield, CPS Chief Operating Officers. “Such practices and initiatives are helping the District emerge as a national leader in school food and nutrition services.”
Farm to School Programs
More than 2,000 Pre-K through 12th grade students at 15 participating schools in SY23 learned about gardening, farming, healthy cooking and eating, and food entrepreneurship through the Farm to School program and the District expects similar participation in SY24. Lessons help students understand more about agriculture and how their food is produced.
With the support of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Farm to School program helps connect schools across the District with fresh, healthy food and local producers. The goal is to enrich children’s bodies and minds while supporting local farmers and food producers by bringing local food into the dining center. The program influences food purchasing to allow students to gain access to healthy, local foods. The program also creates hands-on learning activities through school gardens, farm visits, cooking lessons, and the integration of food-related education into the classroom. This week, District schools are participating in what’s called “The Great Apple Crunch,” by serving locally-sourced apples.
Scratch Cooking Pilot Program
With the input of student focus groups, the District is increasing participation in a scratch pilot cooking program, from one in SY23 at Michele Clark Academic Prep Magnet High School to five in SY24 with the addition of Westinghouse College Prep, Lane Tech College Prep High School, Little Village High School, and South Shore International College Preparatory High School. These same sites are slated to be redesigned as food court style dining by the start of the 2025-26 school year. Breakfast items include freshmade waffles.
The Fall lunch menu features hand-breaded chicken bites, house-made sauces, tilapia, and hand-crafted cheeseburgers. Schools are chosen for the pilot based on the potential to increase student meal participation and strong school dining managers.
Clark Prep Magnet High School was the first of five schools to pilot the new “Made In-House” menu developed by the NSS team and designed to increase student participation in breakfast and lunch programs by offering homemade, nutritious and popular menu options.
Founded in 2019, the Chef Council – Creating Healthy and Exciting Food – is made up of local food professionals, from well-known chefs running Chicago’s best restaurants to professional culinary educators and non-profit partners. Together with our local food providers, the District is finding new and creative ways to get students excited about eating nutritious meals that will help them learn and thrive inside and outside the classroom. Events will occur monthly during SY24 beginning in September and will continue monthly through May. Local chefs prepare recipes – either through demonstrations with a school or with CPS high school students in culinary programs. Some of the chef-designed menus are featured on District-wide menus, such as a barbecue chicken recipe by David Fuller, a chef and CPS culinary instructor.
The National School Lunch Program (NSLP) serves nearly 30 million children every school day. President John F. Kennedy created National School Lunch Week (NSLW) in 1962 to promote the importance of a healthy school lunch in a child’s life and the impact it has inside and outside of the classroom.