City needs to go further

With the attention on food in school, many eyes are on the Department of Education’s Office of School Food. The city’s school food already stands above most schools in the country, but there are still improvements that we’d like to see.

Unlike most school districts, city schools already ban transfats, artificial colors, flavors, and sweeteners, and preservatives. However, like all schools nationwide, they rely on federal Department of Agriculture’s commodity and processed foods due to budgetary constraints. Chicken nuggets, mozzarella sticks, cheeseburgers, and pizza are staples for the protein component across the country. We’d like to see more plant-based entrees.

Project Cool School Food — a partnership with the Office of School Food, New York Coalition for Healthy School Food, Candle Cafe, James Beard Foundation, Food and Finance HS, and Henry’s does that by developing and introducing plant-based entrees that contain no cholesterol, are low in saturated fat, and high in fiber.

Cool School Food is in 19 city schools with a waiting list of 48. Plant-based entrees have been included a few times on the menu city-wide, exposing more than one million students to these items. Other changes needed are eliminating high fructose corn syrup, reducing sodium, implementing higher fiber breads, and less processed foods. These changes are all in the works, but we wish they could happen quicker.

New federal regulations will require additional fruits and vegetables, essentially without funding, and children will not have enough time to eat them with such short lunch periods. Instead the federal government should offer the produce in the classroom as a snack, as they already do in a limited number of schools, and provide the funding to do it.

Federal regulations also propose requiring a meat/meat alternate to be offered at breakfast, a mistake since we need to eat less cholesterol and saturated fat and reduce global warming. The proposed changes come with only a six-cent increase. It’s time the federal government stops saying children are our most important asset, and acts like it instead.

City schools are working hard to improve the food they offer, but their budget has been stretched for years. At some point they can’t do more with less, and we think that time is now.

Amie Hamlin is executive director of the New York Coalition for Healthy School Food.