Biggest Public Schools Join on Sustainable Food

Six of the biggest public school districts in the US are working together to get more healthy foods on kids’ plates while using more sustainable products, starting with compostable dishware. 

School districts in NYC, Los Angeles, Chicago, Dallas, Miami and Orlando have formed the Urban School Food Alliance to cut the costs of serving healthy meals.  

"This show of solidarity is unprecedented," says David Binkle, Director of Los Angeles Unified School District Food Services.

Because of local, conflicting regulations about how food is purchased, they aren’t buying in bulk. Rather, they figure that vendors can lower prices for quality foods if they provide the same lunch to 2.9 million children.

Based on the most popular foods in each district, the Alliance developed the same menus for lunch. One example: roasted chicken, brown rice and seasoned black beans, steamed green broccoli, fresh fruit and milk.

Each school system is in charge of developing one aspect of the program: NYC is developing specifications for purchasing chicken (antibiotic, hormone-free), Miami is working on compostable plates, Dallas is focusing on cutlery, and Los Angeles is in charge of marketing and communication.

All the schools will place their orders using the very same specs.

That will make it much easier for food vendors to provide those foods at lower prices. "93% of all the school districts in the US are 3,000 students or less. A lot of those school districts are writing their own specs and wanting the distributor to bring a sample. It becomes very costly," Dennis Barrett, executive of School Food for New York told Foodservice Director.

Besides common menus, the Alliance is currently focused on  switching from styrofoam to compostable plates – 271 million of them a year. 

"We want to set the tone for the marketplace, rather than having the marketplace tell us what’s available," Leslie Fowler, who directs nutrition support services for Chicago’s school system, told the NY Times. 

Compostable plates

The New York City Education Department is about to evaluate the bids it received to supply about 850,000 plates. When they choose a vendor, all the school systems in the Alliance will place the same order without having to go through separate bidding processes. The RFP specifies that all six school districts will be placing the same order for the same price.  

Future Alliance projects will choose suppliers for organically grown fruit, compostable cutlery and goods that arrive with less packaging waste.

Smaller school districts are already showing interest. Besides getting much healthier food and supplies at lower prices, they wouldn’t have to spend the time developing their own specs. The template can also work for other big institutions, such as hospitals and universities.

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Comments on “Biggest Public Schools Join on Sustainable Food”

  1. Amy Ray

    Thanks to pressure from advocates, these districts are now creating a benchmark that others can follow. This is a great example of taking a systems approach to finding solutions. Focusing on sustainability will benefit to the health of school kids as well as the health of the planet. Gratifying to see this message is now being incorporated into an institutional philosophy.

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