CPS uses food to promote a ‘healthy’ start to the school year for students

CINCINNATI – Stores are stocking shelves with essential back-to-school supplies in anticipation of the start of classes over the next few days.

But one of the most important school supplies doesn’t help students take notes in history class or solve calculus problems. Also, in some cases, it can be difficult to obtain at this time of year.


Things to know

  • Cincinnati Public Schools serve over 50,000 meals a day
  • Over 85% of CPS schools receive free or reduced lunches
  • CPS also partners with local food pantries to provide resources for families throughout the year.
  • Supply chain issues have forced CPS to make menu changes, but districts remain committed to offering ‘healthy’ options every day

When Cincinnati Public Schools resume classes on Thursday, August 18, approximately 85% of approximately 36,000 students will receive free or reduced lunches each day, and the district will provide all students with free breakfast. Many other students choose to buy lunch at school rather than bring food from home.

CPS serves 50,000 meals a day. A school district spokeswoman described Cincinnati Public Schools as the largest restaurant chain in Cincinnati.

Schools these days aren’t just about pizza and chicken nuggets. The CPS dining team, which includes nutritionists, chefs and other staff, aims to provide students with a well-balanced and nutritional menu. Each meal includes a lean protein and whole grain appetizer, four fruit and vegetable sides including a fresh garden bar, and skim milk.

“Eating good, healthy food is so important to the start of a good day for everyone. Manager Courtney Moravito said.

Moravito, now in his seventh year at CPS, oversees the team that prepares breakfasts and lunches for all 65 school buildings in the district, both during the school term and during the summer.

She described food as a “fundamental tool” that helps ensure students are in top shape when they are in the classroom.

Brief edited by The Food Research and Action Center (FRAC) has reviewed the association between children’s breakfast intake and school performance.Findings include how eating or not eating breakfast affects everything from attention span to brain function to overall health.

During COVID, all students were eligible for free meals. That USDA waiver ended at the end of last school year, so school districts are going back to the pre-COVID way of having families apply based on their income.

“Our goal is to ensure that our students can eat a nutritious meal that combines fruits and vegetables and whole grains every day,” she said. We try to introduce students to the components of a meal, but also provide options so that they can choose from a variety of foods that they may not be able to touch outside of school.”

Moravito said food insecurity is prevalent in the Greater Cincinnati area, making it important to ensure access to a variety of healthy foods.

Freestore Foodbank, the region’s largest food pantry, distributes 37.7 million meals annually to low-income individuals and families in 20 counties in Kentucky, Ohio and Indiana.

Kurt Leiber, the organization’s CEO, said there are more than 90,000 “food insecure” children living in the area.

Pandemic-related financial problems, from inflation to unemployment, will only exacerbate the situation. He said 75% of individuals who set foot in a food distribution center during the pandemic had never been before.

Many families now have to decide whether to buy food or pay rent, he said.

“Even if school breakfasts and lunches are free or reduced in price, quality and nutritious meals are often not provided when students are at home after school, on weekends, or especially during long vacations.” Reiber says.

To address this problem, Freestore Foodbank is one of the programs that partner with CPS to provide meals to students and even their families. One of them is Freestore’s School Pantry Program, which is available in 14 different CPS schools.

The Pantry offers shelf-stable frozen foods, health and hygiene products. They also host pop-up fruit and vegetable markets at least once or twice a month, Reiber said.

Reiber says the goal is to reach the whole family, not just the student. He said being on the ground helps remove barriers (distance, social stigma, transportation, etc.) that can prevent families from accessing food.

Most pantries are open during events such as extracurricular activities, open houses, and parent-teacher conferences, so families can shop while they are at school.

One of these pantries is located at the Euler School in Lower Price Hill.

Oyler’s pantry distributes food to the community at least once a month, according to Jami Harris-Luggen, the school’s resource coordinator. She said her family can schedule a visit to the pantry, too.

Harris-Luggen emphasized CPS’s commitment to doing whatever it takes to make sure kids fill the gap, whether it’s during the summer or after school.

“When children are worried about other things, especially if their basic needs are not being met, their minds are not in a place to sit, receive information from their teachers, and think critically about it.”

Food Pantry is aimed at middle school and high school students, but CPS and Freestore Food Bank offer other programs for the youngest students. For example, every Friday during the school year, Freestore will send a “power pack” home to food-insecure students from kindergarten through her sixth grade to ensure they have enough food for the weekend.

Each pack contains over a dozen kid-friendly foods, from whole grain cereals and a variety of juices to oatmeal bars and complete pasta meals.

Over 300 Euler students take home a pack each week.

CPS’s dining staff is poised to prepare tens of thousands of lunches on Day 1 of 2022-23, but has yet to meet the ongoing challenge of getting all the food they actually need. It is working.

Supply chain issues affect both the availability of certain foods, such as poultry, and the products needed to transport the food, such as containers and paper products.

“Monthly, weekly,” Moravito said.

Moravito finds it difficult to keep up with school menus where CPS is planned and listed until supply chain issues are resolved.

That may mean that cafeteria offerings may look a little different, which may mean that students don’t get the food they are used to eating in the cafeteria, she added.

If it becomes necessary to change the school’s posted menu, CPS plans to replace the scheduled menu item with another menu item that is as similar as possible, Morabito said. . But in the end, she said, it all depends on what’s available.

“We are in touch with the lunchroom managers who order the food each week to let them know what alternatives they have, what is available and what is not,” she added. “You never know what the next day will bring, so it’s imperative that we continue to have discussions with vendors about the supply chain.”

Regardless of what is available, Morabito said CPS does not “scoop and scrape” food or use inferior quality products. They’re just looking for other ways to get those foods.

“Our job is to make sure our students have everything they need to succeed in the classroom and in life,” she added. We want them to focus on going to school and doing what they have to do in the classroom without worrying about being hungry.”

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