Thursday, July 1, 2010

Are Pilot Projects the Way Forward?

By Ed Bruske
aka The Slow Cook

If improving school food were simply a matter of writing better contracts for meal purveyors, everybody would be doing it, no?

D.C. Public Schools got some rosy press recently when they announced two pilot programs that would be serving meals vastly upgraded from the industrially processed convenience foods kids are eating now. Each program would feed seven of the city's public schools, one with "portable" or catered meals, the other with food made from scratch.

The food requirements are state of the art: hormone- and antibiotic-free milk, no high-fructose corn syrup or artificial preservatives, colors or flavors, no canned fruit in syrup, no trans fats, beef no more than four times per month. The meals must meet proposed Institute of Medicine standards, meaning minimum and maximum calorie limits along with increased portions of orange and leafy green vegetables. And 20 percent of all produce must come from local sources.

And all of this is supposed to be provided at or near the current levels of federal reimbursement for school meals, meaning around $1.70 for breakfast and $2.70 for lunch. (Recently enacted "Healthy Schools" legislation provides a bit more: an extra 10 cents for breakfast and for lunch, and a five-cent bonus for meals that contain local produce.)

Sounds like a tall order. The deadline for food service companies to submit their proposals was June 1. And that's to begin meal service when school resumes later in August. As far as we know, the proposals are still under review, so the process is wrapped in secrecy. But we'll be looking at these two pilot programs in more detail in the coming days, and hopefully have even more to share when the winning bids are announced.

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