Evaluating the Chefs in the Schools Fresh Cooking Initiative
Healthy Food, Healthy Lives
March 10, 2023
Since September 2017, all 1.1 million New York City public school students have had access to free lunch.
In its 10-year food policy plan, New York City committed to improving cafeteria culture and moving toward a primarily freshly cooked menu, where meals are made from fresh ingredients, prepared at or near the site of consumption. Most recently, with NYHealth support and a multi-million-dollar financial commitment from New York City, Wellness in the Schools (WITS) partnered with the New York City Department of Education to launch its multi-year Chefs in the Schools initiative. The initiative will overhaul the New York City school food menu and its purchasing agreements in favor of fresh foods. In 2023, NYHealth awarded the Teachers College, Columbia University’s Laurie M. Tisch Center for Food, Education & Policy a grant to evaluate this initiative and inform its roll-out and expansion across New York City.
Under this grant, Tisch will collect baseline data in 12 schools that address topics such as: (1) student and caregiver experiences with the new menu items; (2) practices across school kitchens and cafeteria serving lines; and (3) stakeholders’ perceptions and experiences with the program. Data will be collected through mechanisms including observations of meal presentation, cafeteria environment, meal scheduling, and marketing; surveys to students and parents to capture attitudes toward school meals; interviews with chefs and kitchen managers to understand processes and their readiness to prepare and serve new menus; interviews with school leaders to determine their role in implementation; and a review of school participation data in relation to consumption of fresh meals. Baseline results from this project will allow Tisch to apply for other grants to fund a long-term evaluation and inform and shape the continued roll-out and expansion of the initiative.