The New York City Department of Education’s Office of Food and Nutrition Services (OFNS) exists to equitably serve New York City’s students with healthy and delicious meals that enhance their educational experience, reflect their voices, and nourish them into adulthood. They acknowledge that tasty food without nutrition is detrimental to students’ well-being while healthy meals without taste repel students’ curious taste buds and limit participation.
OFNS has always championed initiatives both in-house and nationally that facilitate the development of the best tasting and most nutritious menu items for students everywhere. The office was a lead advocate for the Chefs Move to Schools program, which partnered chefs with school communities to spread awareness about how whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and other healthy foods can be delicious and fun to cook. OFNS has also promoted the Farm to School Program, which connects schools with local farms and food producers to stimulate fresh food exchange that varies by the season, local economic development, and healthy eating for students.
Plant Powered Fridays, launched by Mayor Eric Adams, is the latest New York Citywide initiative giving more than one million students a new outlook on meals centering fruits and vegetables. Every Friday since February 2022, New York City school cafeterias have featured a delicious plant-based dish, rich in vitamins, minerals, fiber, and protein, as the primary menu item. The beloved staff make many of these meals from scratch with freshly prepared ingredients.
Students are empowered to guide the future of New York City school food. Close to 1,900 students annually taste and approve dishes like the Big City Bean Taco before they are served in New York City’s 1,800 public schools. The initiative also encourages young learners to make healthy food choices for a lifetime by exposing them to nutritious meals prepared in different, flavorful ways and providing them with the recipes to make these meals at home.
Building on this groundbreaking initiative, Mayor Adams and Department of Education Chancellor David C. Banks launched the city’s first-ever Chefs Council in September 2022, in partnership with Wellness in the Schools. The council is developing over 100 scratch-cooked, plant-based, and culturally relevant recipes and providing hands-on training for OFNS chefs. OFNS added a brand-new Sweet Potato Gumbo dish, developed by the Rachael Ray-led council, to their Plant Powered Friday’s menu in February 2023.
Another way New York City encourages students to participate in the meals program is to offer culturally responsive menu options. New York City serves halal and kosher meals at schools across the city and adapts its menus to ensure students from all backgrounds can find items they know and love in the cafeteria. On any given day, you might find Caribbean Style Beef Patty, Chicken Dumplings, Turkey Quesadilla, or other items on our menus that reflect the cultural diversity of the city. All of these meals meet and exceed the highest nutrition standards from the USDA, with reduced levels of sodium, fat, and added sugar.
For decades, OFNS has realized they cannot innovate to serve students alone and has partnered with the USDA, health officials, policymakers, city agencies, academics, coalitions, sustainability organizations, health, education, and culinary nonprofits, staff, and students to ensure the tastiest and healthiest food is served on students’ plates. This has resulted in significant menu changes over the years, professional development opportunities for staff members, and advancements in food procurement and preparation that make culturally responsive and Plant Powered meals possible.
OFNS is thrilled to continue offering exciting options for students that is driven by their feedback.