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Op-Ed | New York City is making strides in tackling food insecurity for children

For nearly one million children in public schools, school is more than just a place for them to learn their ABCs. During the COVID-19 pandemic, NYC Schools’ take-out meals provided a lifeline for children and families across the city, and this fact was acutely felt. But even before the pandemic hit our cities, there’s not enough emphasis on how school meals not only address the hunger and food insecurity crises facing children, but also promote better learning environments. No. If we are going to fully embrace a whole-child approach to educating New York City students, that has to change.

Well-nourished students are more likely to succeed academically, are more likely to be socially engaged, and are less likely to develop diet-related illnesses later in life. How can we ensure that every child benefits from nutritious, delicious and culturally sensitive meals?

Under Mayor Adams’ leadership, this administration has already made great strides in transforming the food we serve our children. A nutritious, plant-based meal was provided as the primary choice for Friday school lunches. She also convened her Council of Chefs to develop delicious, nutritious, and culturally relevant recipes for schools, with direct input from students and parents. These new menu items will be rolled out to all schools starting next year in collaboration with our amazing school lunch partners.

But there is still work to be done.these days Estimate It shows that 1 in 4 children in our city experiences food insecurity. Also, for many religiously abiding students, dietary restrictions often limit options, even when meals are available.

Improving the quality of food we serve our children must go hand in hand with creating a warm cafeteria environment that encourages healthy choices. 2017, DOE’s Office of Food and Nutrition Services (OFNS) has begun piloting a new Cafeteria Enhancement Experience (CEE) initiative to make school lunchrooms more welcoming. It included new presentations of healthy food, including whole fruits, vegetables or freshly cut produce. A faster service that reduces the need for students to wait online. and more modern design features.

The results speak for themselves. study During the first three years of the pilot, participating schools found a 35% increase in school lunch participation. Thanks to Mayor Adams’ vision, we can take this program to the next level by expanding it to more than 80 school cafeterias next year. Each new environment also addresses the school’s specific needs, so each student has the resources they need to thrive.

Just as we are arranging each cafeteria environment to serve the needs of each school population, we must ensure that the menus we offer serve the needs of the incredibly diverse public school population. It starts with providing culturally sensitive meals to students, especially those with dietary restrictions for religious reasons.

One in eight students at NYC Schools is Muslim and can only eat halal-certified food. Therefore, we are stepping up our efforts to provide halal meals to all schools that want them. A partnership with the Islamic He Leadership Council of New York has enabled school communities interested in expanding halal menus to add services to their sites, working with principals in a student- and parent-centered process. rice field.

Taken together, these steps Transforming the student dining experience and reorienting it around equity, inclusion and overall health. More students can step into the cafeteria and be confident that they are entering a welcoming environment with abundant, nutritious food options to suit their dietary needs. It’s time to acknowledge that what we feed kids affects their performance in the classroom – and New York City is leading the way.

Kate McKenzie is Executive Director of the Mayor’s Office of Food Policy.