By Ed Bruske
aka The Slow Cook
D.C. Public Schools are scheduled to contract two new pilot meal programs when school resumes in August--one pre-made or "portable" meals reheated, the other meals made from scratch--each serving seven schools across the city.
Yesterday we looked at the many ways school officials expect the hired contractors to upgrade the quality of food and adhere to numerous standards that don't apply to the schools' current food service provider, Chartwells, and all for the same meager allowance--$1.74 for breakfast, $2.68 for lunch--the federal government provides under its subsidized meal program.
Today we're going to look at how school officials expect the chosen contractors to drive up the number of students who participate in the meals programs. Increasing the number of students who choose the subsidized meals offered in schools--as opposed to bringing food from home, eating out of vending machines or off-campus, or perhaps not eating at all--brings more money into the program.
One strategy for helping school food budgets, for instance, is to serve breakfast in the classroom rather than in the cafeteria. Because breakfasts can be made easily and cheaply, a high participation rate in breakfast--as when the kids are all gathered together in class--can generate lots of federal reimbursement dollars that then can be used to improve the quality of lunch.
In Berkeley, CA, where I spent a week in the central kitchen earlier this year, the percentage of students who ate the breakfast provided at school exploded when the schools switched to serving breakfast in the classroom, from less than 9 percent to 61 percent system-wide. But breakfast is not served in the classroom in high school, since high-schoolers have schedules that change from day to day. Among elementary and middle schools, the participation rate skyrocketed to 96 percent.
"Contractor shall continue to increase breakfast participation at all grade levels of the program with emphasis on Breakfast in the Classroom," reads the schools' request for proposal [RFP] for portable meals. "The program shall include expansive marketing and a strong communication plan. In addition, the Contractor shall increase the participation in the national school lunch program at all grade levels."
To promote the new meals, the RFP states: "Contractor shall perform aggressive marketing and promotion campaigns aimed at meeting participation goals (through menu changes, new products, etc.)"
For the "portable" meals program, these are the schools involved and the targeted increases in participation rates:
* Amidon-Bowen Elementary, 401 Eye St. SW: from 45 percent breakfast participation to 85 percent, and 93 percent lunch participation to 95 percent.
* Hearst Elementary School, 3950 37th St. NW: from 13 percent breakfast participation to 70 percent, and 54 percent lunch participation to 80 percent.
* Anacostia Senior High School, 1601 16th St. SE: from 11 percent breakfast participation to 50 percent, and 43 percent lunch participation to 75 percent.
* Eastern Senior High School, 1700 East Capitol St. NE: from 8 percent breakfast participation to 50 percent, and 34 percent lunch participation to 75 percent.
* Johnson Middle School, 1400 Bruce Pl. SE: from 29 percent breakfast participation to 70 percent, and 80 percent lunch participation to 90 percent.
* Wilson Senior High School, 3950 Chesapeake St. NW: from 7 percent breakfast participation to 65 percent, and 15 percent lunch participation to 65 percent.
* Peabody Elementary School, 425 C St. NE: from 25 percent breakfast participation to 70 percent, and 80 percent lunch participation to 90 percent.
These are the schools scheduled to begin receiving meals made from scratch, and the targeted participation rate improvements for those:
* Kelly Miller Middle School, 301 49th St. NE: from 25 percent breakfast participation to 50 percent, and 66 percent lunch participation to 80 percent.
* Thomas Elementary School, 650 Annacostia Ave. SE: from 57 percent breakfast participation to 72 percent, and 92 percent lunch participation to 95 percent.
* Burrville Elementary School, 801 Division Ave. NE: from 41 percent breakfast participation to 70 percent, and 89 percent lunch participation to 95 percent.
* Alton Elementary School, 533 48th Pl. NE: from 40 percent breakfast participation to 70 percent, and 79 percent lunch participation to 90 percent.
* Kenilworth Elementary School, 1300 44th St. NE: from 64 percent breakfast participation to 75 percent, and 92 percent lunch participation to 95 percent.
* Marshall Elementary School, 3100 Ft. Lincoln Dr. NE: from 52 percent breakfast participation to 70 percent, and 69 percent lunch participation to 85 percent.
* Propect LC, 920 F St. NE: from 60 percent breakfast participation to 70 percent, and 87 percent lunch participation to 95 percent.
Even a cursory look at the schools involved in the two pilot projects reveals trends that generally hold true for all schools: more kids in disadvantaged and largely minority areas of the city participate in the federally-subsidized meal programs than white kids in more affluent areas. And participation falls off sharply as kids get older, regardless of ethnicity and economic status.
The participation targets in these proposals don't appear to be anything more than wild guesses. It will be a challenge to convince more affluent white families who may be sending meals from home to stop doing so and instead choose the food served in the cafeteria line.
Can better food drive droves of students to reconsider joining the subsidized food line?
There doesn't seem to be any reason why D.C. schools can't achieve nearly 100 percent breakfast participation if breakfast is served in the classroom, and that could provide a bounty of cash to make lunches better, especially if those in charge of school meals focus on making breakfast simpler, rather than the current fiesta of sugary, processed choices.
9 months ago