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Discussing the state of school food with DC’s Food Policy Council

On September 7th, DC Central Kitchen joined the new DC Food Policy Council in a robust community discussion about the state of school food in the District of Columbia. This fall, DC Central Kitchen expanded our award-winning Healthy School Food program to 12 DC Public Schools (DCPS) and 15 total schools in DC. In all, we expect to serve 1.3 million locally sourced, scratch-cooked meals this school year. Our expansion was part of a contracting overhaul by DCPS, which seeks to continue making school meals healthier, more local, and more popular with students.

The community meeting invited the key players in DC school food, including government oversight bodies, academic researchers, concerned parents, the farm-to-school experts at DC Greens, and DCPS’s two current vendors, DC Central Kitchen and SodexoMAGIC. Chief Operating Officer Andy Finke spoke on behalf of DCCK, sharing our strategy for serving healthier meals that kids actually eat and enjoy, thanks to our special ingredients of chef-designed menus, cafeteria taste tests, and a research partnership with American University.

Rigorous testing and evaluation will be a big part of this new contract, and both vendors will need to provide public quarterly reports on key performance metrics. DC Central Kitchen uses data to walk the complicated line between maximizing participation (that is, ensuring kids go through the line and take a full meal) and instilling healthy behaviors through high standards for nutrition and local sourcing. We don’t play to the lowest common denominator of kids’ palates but know that a healthy meal that gets tossed in the garbage doesn’t do anything for the children we serve. Because we’re focused on serving low-income communities, especially in Ward 7, our students often rely us on for breakfast, lunch, and dinner five days a week. That’s a responsibility we take seriously.

At the end of two hours of intensive discussion, there was a common agreement to make school food service more transparent through sharing data, and to ensure that schools have the equipment and trained staff they need to ensure excellent food quality throughout the District. The next open community meeting of the DC Food Policy Council is set for October 5th and inquiries about our Healthy School Food venture can be directed to eteti@dccentralkitchen.org.