DISD Joins Five Districts Across U.S. to Push for Serious Cafeteria Changes

Categories: Food News

Dora Rivas has a really important role at DISD. And though her curriculum doesn't involve reading, writing or arithmetic, her job is as essential as all of those. She's the executive director of Food and Child Nutrition Services, and she's continually raising the bar on what's acceptable in Dallas school cafeterias.

Last year DISD joined five other major school districts across the country -- New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Miami-Dade and Orlando -- in a coalition named Urban School Food Alliance (USFA) that aims to provide more wholesome nutrition for kids.

Together these urban school districts serve 2.6 million meals daily. Additionally they share an annual purchasing power of $530 million in food and supplies, and therein lies their collective power: The group has not joined forces simply to talk about how important vegetables are for a growing body and mind, because that doesn't speak as loudly as $530 million.

The idea behind the USFA is to use their purchasing power to help drive down costs and at the same time force vendors reformulate menu items for better taste and higher quality. The group formed last year during an annual school nutrition conference in Denver and are still working through the legalities and logistics of the program.

"The USFA is just in the organizational stage," explains Rivas in an email. "We are working with our district's procurement and legal departments to determine feasibility."

The USFA is meeting this month at the annual nutrition conference in Kansas where they aim to develop bid proposal documents and align efforts for improving school food image, quality and procurement, as well as standardize food and supply specifications for certain items like chicken.

While she waits for those details to be ironed out, Rivas is seeing changes in kids' attitudes towards eating healthy.

"We have seen students learn to taste and consume more healthy items," Rivas says. "Our supervisors offer tasty teasers to encourage students to try new foods. Various nutrition initiatives in coordination with school gardens has resulted in less plate waste and improved menu acceptability."

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Going beyond, DISD could try adding sourcing requirements to some RFPs that heat and serve products have no more than 10 or 15 listed ingredients. They could create a test kitchen in a high school vocational program where both students and test cooks attempt to develop new recipies, then recipies that meet nutrition and cost guidelines could be taste tested by a panel of students and parents, and the winning recipies could be tried at that school and if successful implemented district wide. DISD could attempt to find some sponsors to defray some of the initial extra cost of developing a program like this. I'm sure if I spent more than 10 minutes thinking I could come up with a bunch more ideas.


Stupid LiveFry doesn't warn you that your comment is too long in advance, or what is the max...

What DISD CFNS should be doing to get real results in a reasonable time is to adapt the model shown by Jamie Oliver - hire some more cooks, reduce the amount of processed heat and serve food products they use, develop recipies that use whole food products and can be prepared in time, find or develop USDA approved whole food sources and farmers that can deliver within budget, develop meal nutritional guidelines that exceed USDA and limit the number of carbs, sugars, and fats that are in their meals.

This they could do themselves and the community would see results. But creating another committee from organizations with bloated bureaucracies, that have to get all the stakeholders involved, and come to a consensus that doesn't disturb the status quo so much that they are lobbied to allow a bunch of exceptions, and then write these guidelines in a way acceptable to all the participants, is just asking for failure.


This is going to sound like I'm a crazy teapartier, and I'm really about as liberal as they come in Texas.

But 5 large bureaucracies had a pep rally and decided to make school lunches healther by driving down costs and improving taste and quality through their purchasing power, and now 7-19 months later, Dallas hasn't gotten past allowing their Procurement and Legal departments to mull over the idea? And their goal is to develop bid documents, align school lunch image efforts, and standardize supply specifications? Their goals and plan of action aren't even in alignment. From someone who works in supply chain, I doubt this has a happy ending for the kids.

The USDA school lunch program where these organizations get much of their funding has some pretty stringent guidelines schools and the vendors they source from are required to follow too. But the way they are written allows schools and companies that supply them to provide food that meets nutritional guidelines for calories and vitamins and cleanlieness that would make sense 40 years ago, but we would consider junk food now like too many white carbs, fat, and highly processed meat products, and despite this much of it tastes bland.

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