By Ed Bruske
aka The Slow Cook
Did you know that under the U.S. Department of Agriculture rules that govern school meal programs any school district that uses a contracted food services management company such as Chartwells, Sodexo, Aramark must "establish an advisory board of parents, teachers and students to assist in menu planning"?
I ask because after I discovered this provision in the federal rule book yesterday I took a quick poll of the people who have been most involved in school food issues lately in the District of Columbia and none of them had heard of any such a committee existing here. (Being the one journalist in town covering school food in any great depth on a regular basis, I would have expected myself to have heard of a menu advisory committee if one existed, but this is news to me. Except a dim recollection draws me back to the school district's original contract with Chartwells where, on page 22, there's a provision stating: "The contractor shall participate in the formation and establishment and periodic meetings of DCPS advisory board, comprised of students, teachers, and parents, to assist in menu planning.")
With classes scheduled to begin on Monday, the D.C. Public Schools sent out a newsletter that arrived in the mail yesterday, including an item entitled, "New school year, new menu, more choices, better food." Here's the text:
"What's new? Take a look at our menu. It features more whole-grained foods and meals lower in fat and sugar. And all menus will feature fruit and veggies from farms in Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, Pennsylvania, West Virginia and North Carolina."
Food Services Director Jeffrey Mills has also said recently that he and his staff have been busy tasting new "products" and trying to make D.C. school menus better. Was a committee of parents, teachers and students involved in this effort? Certainly, neither Mills nor his staff reached out to us or advertised a menu planning committee that I know of.
But for all you other parents out there whose school districts employ a food service management company to provide meals, this is one way you can make a difference. Has your school district established a menu advisory committee as required by federal law? If not, insist that they do so. If they are just keeping it secret, shine a light on it and sign up.
5 days ago