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    City Ends School Lunch Program That Used Professional Chefs

    This is baffling.If the Times had allowed comments on this story, there would have been plenty. Here are the federal School Mealsl Regulations.

    By Ariel Kaminer

    A well-regarded program that recruited professional chefs to help the New York City Department of Education provide fresher, healthier food in public schools is being discontinued because it does not meet new federal nutrition standards, the department said Friday.

    Organized by the nonprofit group Wellness in the Schools, the program won attention in culinary circles and applause from parents for bringing professional chefs into schools to plan and help prepare meals like vegetarian chili, pasta with fresh pesto and roasted chicken with homemade spice rub.

    But according to Marge Feinberg, a department spokeswoman, the programâs approach does not comply with the requirements of the Child Nutrition Reauthorization Act, which sets higher nutritional standards for the food served to students across the country, and provides an additional subsidy of 6 cents per meal for schools that comply.

    She said that the program, used in 30 city public schools in the last year, would not be involved in the planning of menus and preparation come fall. In those schools and others, however, Wellness in the Schools, also known as WITS, will continue to offer cooking demonstrations, provide educational materials about nutrition and maintain salad bars, which are not regarded as part of the basic cafeteria menu. âThe WITS menus that they provided to schools last year do not meet the new federal regulations,â Ms. Feinberg said, without offering specifics.

    But Sharon Richter, a licensed nutritionist who has worked with WITS for several years, countered that the group has always maintained higher nutritional standards than those required by law, and pushed the cityâs Department of Education to improve its own standards, like reducing corn syrup and hydrogenated oil.

    âIâm working through the new menus to make sure they all fit the new requirements,â she said. Any adjustments would be minor, she said, like including fresh fruit and the salad bar on the listed menu items rather than offering them as extras, or altering the mix of vegetables over the course of the week. Over all, she said, âItâs a very obvious thing how much healthier these are, the recipes made from scratch as opposed to prepackaged food.â

    A spokeswoman for the United States Department of Agriculture had no immediate comment on the WITS program, but noted that the department encouraged partnerships between chefs and schools through the Chefs Move to Schools program, which pairs professional chefs with local cafeterias nationwide. The program is a part of Michelle Obamaâs Letâs Move campaign.

    Parents in the affected New York City schools praised the WITS program, and expressed shock that it was being discontinued.

    Jean Moreland, a parent at P.S. 84 in Manhattan and co-president of the PTA, said: âIt baffles me, that in a city where our mayor is so concerned with the size of our sodas, he is O.K. with feeding our children fatty and processed foods rather than the much healthier WITS options.â

    Michael Anthony, the executive chef at Gramercy Tavern, who worked with Public School 41 in Manhattan during the past year, said the project âwas met with an enormous amount of enthusiasm from kids, parents, cafeteria workers and administrators.â As for the new change in policy, he said: âWe will continue to be dedicated to the kids at 41 and to the organizers of WITS to see that it doesnât just go by the wayside. Itâs important to stand up for the right of our kids to eat healthy food and live healthy enjoyable lives.â

    Nancy Easton, the executive director and co-founder of WITS, which was formed in 2005, said that there was an ever-increasing demand from public schools for its services.

    âWeâll still partner with schools, but we just wonât be in the kitchens,â she said, expressing hope that the situation would change within a few months. But Ms. Feinberg indicated otherwise: âThis is a change for the upcoming school year. I canât talk about beyond that.â

    — Ariel Kaminer
    New York Times


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