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  • Andrea Strong

Scratch Cooking is Possible in NYC Schools, according to new report by the Tisch Food Center

I am very excited to share news that the long-awaited by researchers at the Laurie M. Tisch Center for Food, Education & Policy, in the Program in Nutrition, Teachers College Columbia University of the Brigaid/OFNS Scratch-Cooking Pilot has been released and its results are very promising!


The report found that New York City, which serves 900,000 school meals a day, can successfully prepare and serve scratch cooked meals to students, This is a major shift away from processed foods currently on the menu. The potential positive impacts of scratch cooking on students’ diets, health, academic achievement, and sense of community are enormous.


With New York City parents, students, politicians, and advocates clamoring for better school food, the report—Cooking Outside the Box: How a Scratch Cooking Pilot in the Bronx isReshaping Meals In New York City Schools—shows that the largest school district in the country can turn back the clock and serve fresh, appealing scratch cooked meals to students. For the purpose of this report, scratch cooked food service means: food service that prioritizes the preparation of meals or snacks on a daily basis at or near the site of consumption with ingredients in their most basic form.


The Cooking Outside the Box report is particularly timely given the New York City Council’s recent bill calling on the Department of Education (DOE) to give them a plan and timeline for fully transitioning to scratch cooked food service.


Key findings from Cooking Outside the Box include:

Moving from many processed foods to entirely scratch cooked meals required complex systems change given the massive size and scale of the DOE’s Office of Food and Nutrition Services.


The model for scratch cooking evolved during the pilot, from an initial focus on two kitchens serving five schools fully scratch cooked meals, to introducing some scratch cooked recipes citywide.


While this study did not focus on economic outcomes, initial findings show that food and labor costs have the potential to move towards cost neutrality as more school kitchens transition to scratch cooked food service.


In order for all students to have scratch cooked meals every day, New York City will have to make serious investments in kitchen infrastructure, staff training and advancement, coordination of internal and external stakeholders, and generating student enthusiasm for scratch cooked meals in partnership with the entire school community.


A link to the full report can be found here.


Read more in Chalkbeat.


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