DC school lunches go gourmet

Following national trends to defeat childhood obesity and to promote healthy eating standards, including efforts made by the First Lady to eradicate childhood obesity, an epidemic that affects over 20% of DC children, Top Chef contestants made a beeline for DC Public Schools last week. Their challenge? To whip up healthy lunch options for the District’s children, on only $2.50 a meal. 

The result: The leading team in the competition managed to include one vegetable in their lunch offering--a stick of celery--only to be trailed by a team that used two pounds of sugar in their banana pudding recipe and a chef who braised a chicken meal with sherry, as in the alcohol. 

The outcomes of the chef’s meals are shocking considering their line of work, and expose the need for education regarding nutrition and healthy eating standards in our community. The lesson also affirmed for the nation’s most notable chefs and their audience that $2.50 a meal is a tight budget for the inclusion of healthy and nutritional options. 

The silver lining: the city is committed despite these odds. With over 70% of DCPS students receiving either free or reduced lunch, there is the critical public will needed--from the Office of the First Lady to DC City Council--to change the status quo. Last month, the District passed the Healthy Schools Act, which calls for better, healthier foods in classrooms and cafeterias. And thankfully, America’s Top Chefs will not be retained as DC Public School’s permanent chefs.

Last month DCPS released RFPs calling for food service providers to submit proposals for two upcoming pilot food programs in the District. The RFPs, which closed June 4, further called for creative, locally produced, healthy and nutritional, as well as tasty, options on the tight budget allocated.

The food service providers seem up for the challenge as the two pilot programs are set to officially launch this August.

Stay Tuned.