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Next steps for healthful food in DCPS

District schools are launching two pilot programs to improve the quality of school food. (Melina Mara/The Washington Post)

The passage of the Healthy Schools Act in the District has gotten a lot of ink (including front page billing in The Post). The bill has good intentions. It would ban trans fats, limit sodium and saturated fats and give preference to local produce. What it doesn't have, yet, is funding to pay for all that good, more expensive food.

D.C. public school officials say no worries. They're already on the case.

Last week, DCPS issued requests for proposal, or RFPs, for two pilot programs that would serve meals with more locally grown produce and meats, no fried foods, no trans fats and no canned fruit or vegetables packed in syrup or oil. The pilots, both slated to begin in September, will each serve seven schools.

The first request calls for so-called portable meals, an upgrade to the standard box lunch. Anthony Tata, DCPS's chief operating officer, says the new boxed meals are a response to falling participation rates in some schools in southeast and southwest Washington that are undergoing renovation, leaving the students without a lunch room.

The second would set up a small production kitchen in Northeast Washington to produce from-scratch meals for seven schools. These meals, said food service director Jeff Mills, will be different than the so-called fresh-cooked meals that are currently provided by contractor Chartwells and contain many processed foods.

(For an in-depth look at Chartwells' fresh-cooked program, see Ed Bruske's excellent series on his blog, The Slow Cook.)

For both pilots, DCPS has requested all meals meet the strict nutrition standards for foods in schools recommended by the Institute of Medicine. (These are considered the gold standard for healthful school lunch.) In addition, it requires that every meal contain fruit, vegetables and hormone-free milk; 75 percent of the edible products must be 75-percent whole-grain or greater; and grass-fed, local, antibiotic-free meats must be served whenever possible. The portable-meal proposal also calls for biodegradable packaging.

"In every case, this meets or exceeds the standards put out by the Healthy Schools Act," Tata said.

One bidder is sure to be Revolution Foods. (Indeed, the RFPs mirror much of the California company's marketing material.) Rev Foods already serves a number of District charter schools but doesn't yet have the capacity to serve all 122 District schools.

Final proposals are due June 1. The pilot programs begin Aug. 23, the first day of the new school year.

-- Jane Black

By Jane Black  |  May 10, 2010; 7:00 AM ET
Categories:  Food Politics , Sustainable Food  | Tags: Jane Black, school lunch  
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Seems like a great first step for the students. Great work by the DCPS to start the process to get new vendors into the foodservices programs. Congrats to Mr. Tata and Mr. Mills. Seems like they had a plan all along.

Posted by: Foodguru | May 10, 2010 4:07 PM | Report abuse

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