The men and women preparing meals for Chicago school children say the kids do not eat most of the new food, according to a survey released by the cafeteria workers union Unite HERE Local 1. Nearly fifty of the workers marched outside the Chicago Public School headquarters on Tuesday afternoon to unveil the survey of 436 self-described lunchladies.
First Lady Michelle Obama will announce new national lunch standards today that CPS already adopted last school year. The schools incorporated healthier foods by offering a different vegetable each day, placing whole grains on the menu, and more.
The workers say this does not do enough. According to the survey, three-quarters of the workers said they “had no input on the new recipes or food.” The food is often unfamiliar for the students and leads to waste, defeating the purpose of the program.
Disciplinary fears prevented 61 percent of the respondents from speaking out on the program. Workers would like to see actual kitchens that would allow them to prepare full meals for the students instead of taking a one-size fits all approach. They would also like to take part in the decision-making process, offered more training, ending the practice of replacing fresh food with frozen or reheatable food, and add language to their contracts that allows them to talk to parents and kids about the food.
The Chicago Tribune quoted CPS spokes man Frank Shuftan from a statement saying:
“Our lunchroom workers are an important part of our food service program, and we value interest and passion in offering students the most nutritious meals possible.”
The Tribune also provided more data on the lunch programs.
Last year the Tribune reported that only about 70 percent of CPS students were taking lunch after the meals were overhauled — even though 86 percent of students qualified for free or reduced-price meals. The lunchroom survey suggests the percentage of students who actually eat the food could be even lower — only 42 percent of the workers “felt the students were eating the new food.”
Unfortunately, they did not seem to gather data on the universal breakfast program in which some workers believe is mismanaged. According to a few of the lunchladies the breakfasts are distributed in paper bags and students return to a classroom to eat. The meal typically contains a fruit item, milk, cereal, and/or a warm option of grits or oatmeal.
“It’s about taste and the way it is prepared,” said Katherine Crawford, a CPS lunchroom worker for 13 years. “We want training on what should be served but instead they just tell us how to serve it.”
CPS has 409,000 students and the lunchroom workers serve 77,000 school breakfasts and 280,000 school lunches each in over 600 schools.
Gloria Drew, an eight year veteran of school cafeterias, says, the heavily processed food like hot dogs, hamburgers, and turkey is avoided by students but the fresh chicken is usually enjoyed by the students. Drew also mentioned the eggs and beans are processed or smell poorly.
“It is not the food they could get from their mom’s home cooking,” said Drew.
While school food is notorious for being substandard the one-size fits all approach for nearly a half million students skips over the diversity of Chicago in order to save money. It also brings down the quality of food with more processed goods shipped to the schools and told what to prepare. One workers said the kids don’t even like the pizza because it takes like cardboard. Even if Congress believes it to be a vegetable.
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