BUFFALO, NY — The Buffalo City Schools food service department has certainly heard the questions and concerns of parents, as their students return to school.
One of their biggest questions, according to both the district and questions submitted to 2 On Your Side: Can schools go back to scratch cooking their meals? And if so, when?
Food Service Director Bridget O’Brien Wood said Thursday returning to scratch cooking is definitely on the district’s radar for the near future, pending necessary renovations like a commissary that can sufficiently hold raw foods and scratch ingredients to make that goal a reality.
But a current school program, Wood said, could also help pave the way toward satisfying parents’ request.
In it’s third year, Buffalo City Schools are continuing to roll out their pilot Farm-to-School program, which is slated to impact at least 12 schools in 2017-18.
The idea: Teaming with local farms in Western New York to bring fresh fruits and vegetables into every meal in the school cafeterias.
It’s a slow process, according to Wood, but the district is already hosting the second annual Farm-to-School Challenge, pitting a number of local chefs in a recipe and cook-off competition.
Each recipe will strictly follow the USDA’s school nutritional guidelines, and will feature locally grown root vegetables; the winning recipe will be featured during the December Harvest of the Month menu in Buffalo City Schools.
It’s all part of finding a successful model and plan to not only strengthen nutrition in Buffalo City Schools, Wood says, but to use that same plan for neighboring school districts as well.
“What somebody’s doing in the suburbs, we try to copy in our district, and vice versa,” Wood said. “So when something works for us, we share it, and so that’s definitely what we want to do, is just be able to say, ‘Try this, it works for us.’”
Other adaptations have already been made this year from years past, including the addition of 1 percent chocolate milk back into schools after a nation-wide decline in milk consumption, the implementation of whole grain options in breads and rolls, and the mandatory requirement of offering fruits and vegetables with every meal.
They also have a community eligibility program, which offers free breakfast, lunch, and supper to all students regardless of economic status — that currently totals up to 21,000 breakfasts, 21,000 lunches and 7-10,000 after school suppers served across the district each day.
But whether it’s an easy fix (like chocolate milk), a tougher fix (new commissary), or anything in-between, Wood said optimal school nutrition is a high priority at both the local and state levels.
“We all work together,” Wood said. “We all belong to the New York State school nutrition association, the Erie County school nutrition association, and so we all really collaborate with each other… I’ve done this with New York City, when they develop a great bid, then Buffalo uses it, and when we develop a great bid, the suburbs around Buffalo use it. So it’s definitely all about collaboration.”