How is the new chow in CPS schools?

How are these healthier meals playing with the kids?

November 27, 2013

Photos courtesy of anonymous Chicago Public School students
The new lunches at CPS offer organic salad greens as well as more fruits and vegetables.

After more than a decade with the same lunch provider, Chicago Public Schools hired a new catering company, Aramark, to produce its school food this year.

The new caterer promised to boost sales, make tastier food and even serve up organic salad every day. It’s been three months since Aramark launched its menus in the district and we thought it was time to see how it’s going.

Wednesday on Afternoon Shift we talk to Leslie Fowler, the director of nutritional support services at CPS, and a group of kids who are on a mission to improve wellness among CPS students.

Fowler, who worked for Aramark in Rochester, before becoming school food chief in Chicago says that Aramark has improved food and sales since taking over the $100 million-plus contract at CPS.

“What Aramark offered was an opportunity to do organic salad in our schools and have one consistent menu across the district,” she said.

The administrator says that students seem to be enjoying the meals and notes that school lunch participation (meaning how many kids take lunch) is up 3 percent this year to 55 percent of students. Still, that’s in a district where 88 percent of students qualify for free or reduced lunch.

Accounting has been a problem in the past with tallies of students lunch sales completed by hand each day. Fowler says that this will all be streamlined early next year when all schools go to a system of swipe cards that will allow students to pay electronically and for the district “to enter the 21 Century.”

In recent years the district, which, in 2009 was serving nachos and fries to high school kids every day, has undergone some changes aimed at healthier meals. Lunch sales have dropped off in those years and Fowler says that pizza and spicy chicken patties are still the top sellers but hopes to change that through education.

Monica Eng is a WBEZ producer and co-host of the WBEZ podcast Chewing the Fat. Follow her at @monicaeng