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Popular Lunch Program Will Be Back in School Kitchens

Tuesday, August 28, 2012 - 02:05 PM

Menus designed by celebrity chefs such as Jamie Oliver and Michael Anthony are returning to city schools. The non-profit group Wellness in the Schools will continue its work in cafeterias this year, reversing the Department of Education's decision to curtail the program because it did not meet new federal nutrition guidelines for schools.

The program brings celebrity chefs into schools to create menus and prepare healthy lunches, such as flatbread pizza and black bean burgers. It also provides cooking demonstrations and classroom lessons on healthy eating and the importance of physical activity. It serves 40 schools in Manhattan, Brooklyn and the Bronx.

"It's a wonderful public-private partnership where we bring top-notch chefs into the schools," said City Council Speaker Christine Quinn. "They cook meals from scratch. It's really about teaching young people and children the importance of good nutrition."

Education officials earlier this month said they could not guarantee that Wellness in the Schools would meet the stricter nutrition guidelines required by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, so they discontinued the school lunch aspect of program. The guidelines include limits on calories and sodium.

That decision prompted a letter from Ms. Quinn and other members of the City Council, urging the Education Department to work with Wellness in the Schools and other groups promoting healthy eating in order to align their menus with new federal standards.

Education officials say they have been in ongoing conversations to do just that, and they are now working on an alternative menu that would allow Wellness in the Schools to meet federal regulations, said Erin Hughes, a spokeswoman.

"We value our partnership with them and we're excited to have them in the schools," she said, adding that there will be vegetarian options.

The federal nutrition guidelines, outlined in January, raise the standards for school food programs for the first time in 15 years, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Schools were expected to begin complying with the new regulations July 1, in order to continue receiving federal subsidies.

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