New CPS menu includes ‘organic salad’ every day

August 20, 2013

Monica Eng and Becky Vevea

File/USDA
File: Chicken, baked beans, and carrots were part of a lunch recipe served to students in Chicago schools by Chartwells-Thompson.

Fresh organic green salads will be offered to all Chicago Public School students every day of the upcoming school year, according to new 2013-2014 CPS menus obtained by WBEZ.

The lunch and breakfast menus offer a first glimpse of what the district’s new caterer, Aramark, will serve more than 400,000 Chicago Public School children starting Aug. 26.

These daily organic romaine lettuce salads come as part of a food contract that saves the district $12 million over its last caterer. The menus, which cover the months of August and September, may change and could vary slightly from school to school. At the high school level, students are offered several options each day from various restaurant-style stations, such as “Green Street Deli” and “Corner Crust Pizza.” But not every school may offer every option.

Menu items of note include a “breakfast for lunch” entree of pancakes and sausage that will be served to at high schools twice every month and elementary schools once a month. High schoolers will also be offered new items such as bruschetta pizza, chicken and ham jambalaya and cheesy baked potatoes served with corn chips.

As part of a culinary theme featuring "ingredients and flavors born in Chicago," the menus list a Mexican nacho bar, barbecued chicken pizza, taco pizza, a taco burger and “Chicago beef sandwiches.”

Without comment from CPS or Aramark officials, it was not immediately clear how taco pizza and taco burgers illustrated “Chicago flavors.”

In a nod to a Latino population that makes up the largest demographic (44 percent) of the CPS student body and the growing popularity of spicy snacks among American teens in general, high school menus feature a consistent "Tortilla Fresh Mex" selection and at least one item with jalapeños, salsa or buffalo sauce each week.  

In honor of our famously dressed local wiener, Chicago style hot dogs appear on both the elementary and high school menus. High school students will also be offered several different styles of pizza every week.

The most popular item under CPS’s previous vendor, Chartwells, was the “spicy chicken sandwich.” The new menus include some type of breaded chicken product every month for elementary schoolers and every week for high schoolers.

Elementary school selections will change daily, starting with chicken nuggets or “dippin’ mozzarella sticks" on the first day of school.

New USDA fruit and vegetable rules require that an orange or green vegetable be offered twice a week. Aramark's include french fries, tater tots, green pepper strips, corn, fresh broccoli, cinnamon sweet potatoes, sweet potato tots, steamed squash, collard greens, sweet potato fries, seasoned greens and tomato wedges.

Philadelphia based Aramark won the $100 million contract to cater CPS lunchrooms--the largest single such contract in North America--last spring despite protests from the district's previous caterer Chartwells Thompson. CPS had worked with Chartwells for more than a decade.

Chartwells had improved its menus, that at one time offered daily nachos for high schools, by sourcing more local produce and chicken raised without antibiotics to the menus. The company's regional chief, however, was criticized for giving unauthorized gifts to the head of CPS food service, who resigned after an investigation by the CPS Inspector General in the spring of 2012.

Monica Eng is a producer for WBEZ. Follow her @monicaeng. Becky Vevea is a producer for WBEZ. Follow her @beckyleah15.