DOE slash cafeteria menus led by NYC budget cuts

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By Dan Sears

New York City kids would rather starve than eat the cut-rate cafeteria food being rolled out across the city — with options such as chickpea stew, veggie burgers and zucchini-carrot breakfast bread filling up public school trash cans, The Post has learned.

New menus implemented by the city Department of Education this month dumped student favorites such as pizza and French Fries in favor of less expensive menus that City Hall claims are healthier for kids, but are packed with unpopular vegetarian foods like “veggie nuggets” and Guisado Kidney Beans.

“Even though they are pushing these vegan menus down the kids’ throats, so much of it goes in the garbage because the kids don’t like it,” one Brooklyn elementary principal, who asked to remain anonymous, said.

The principal said that when he questioned why the DOE had scrapped items kids love, such as BBQ chicken thighs and legs, a food supervisor cited “the rising cost of food” and called such menu favorites “too expensive.”

New York City kids would rather starve than eat the cut-rate cafeteria food being rolled out across the city

A Post source in school kitchen management also confirmed new foods are being thrown out and named chickpea stew, veggie burgers and zucchini carrot breakfast bread among the most thrown out.

Parents told the Post that the new menus are not making it easy for them to get their picky eaters fed.

“He’s a picky eater. There are things on that menu that he doesn’t eat, like the fish sandwich. The new menu does look better,” said Emily Santiago, whose 3-year-old son Lucas Oralang goes to PS 129 in Manhattan.

Kimberly Hemingway, packs lunch for her 8-year-old daughter, who is in second grade at the school, and doubted that the new meals are even as nutritious as they claim.

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“It’s not always as healthy, [the meals offered] have high preservatives, they’re salty,” she said. “They try to do what they can with what they have.”

One Harlem school cafeteria worker who declined to give her name said that the new menu is an improvement on the old menu, but still not great.

“That menu is horrible. It’s been for years. Right now it’s picking up some. A lot of kids still don’t eat the lunch, so a lot goes to waste,” she told the Post.

While the new menus appear to slash dishes that kids actually did agree to eat — in favor of vegan options pushed by Mayor Eric Adams — quality of produce continues to be a problem, a Bronx school cook said.

At least 10 managers, 2 supervisors and 9 cooks citywide also confirmed to a Post source that more food is going to waste because “children do not like the food,” referring to the changes

At least two cases of apple slices from Driscoll Foods were tossed in the trash last month by school staff because the items had “short dates, were damaged or expired.”

The school’s manager said fruits and vegetables “must be accepted no matter what is damaged,” but added, “That has been happening for the last two years.”

Food quality has been a hot button issue at city public school’s since before the menu changes — which could aggravate an already dire dining experience for students.

One parent, Dawna Fennell, recounted how her son, a high schooler at Urban Assembly Gateway School for Technology in Hell’s Kitchen, in December bit down on a mozzarella stick and found a piece of plastic mixed in with the oozing cheese.

NYC parent Dawna Fennell’s son was shocked when he bit down on his mozzarella stick to find himself with a mouth full of plastic NYC Parents

And in May 2022, The Post reported on a student-run Instagram account that characterized one meal served at Baccalaureate School for Global Education in Queens as “slathered diarrhea all over my plate.”

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Adams in November announced $60 million in cuts to the school foods division, part of a larger $550 million the DOE will need to shed from it’s overall budget, effective as of January.

He attributed the cuts to the migrant crisis, which has brought more than 170,000 asylum-seekers to New York City over the past year and a half and is expected to cost the city $10.6 billion through FY25.

“It just makes me very angry that they’re giving away all this money to the people who entered illegally from the border, but taking food away from the kids who are citizens of the city,” the Brooklyn principal said, referring to credit cards handed out to buy baby supplies and food.

At least two cases of Apple Slices from Driscoll Foods were tossed in the trash last month by school staff because the items had “short dates, were damaged or expired” NYC Parents

DOE spokesman Nathaniel Styer told Chalkbeat that the city is replacing the missing city money with federal funds — but the overall $580 million budget is still higher than the city spent last year.

A council source told the publication that the administration had said this wouldn’t affect the division’s overall operating budget.

“It’s mystifying why schools are seeing these removals of menu items,” the council source added.

When pressed on the issue, Styer told the Post “we had a 9% increase in student participation and increases in other costs.”

“We have to stay within our budget and if we cannot cut labor, we have to cut some of the options.” Styer said.

Mayor Adams announced the cuts as a result of the city’s increased spending on the migrant crisis James Messerschmidt

Council education committee chair Rita Joseph said she is “deeply frustrated” by the administration’s decision to cut school food adding that “our schools deserve better.”

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“Cutting resources from the school food budget directly takes away from our most vulnerable students, dedicated school food staff, and entire school communities,” she said.

Individual items omitted from the February menu may appear in subsequent months, and every item on those menus is student taste-tested and approved before being served, the city claimed.

“Our school food team has worked diligently to respond to this fiscal crisis without sacrificing nutritional standards and with a continued focus on student choice,” another DOE spokesperson said.

But in the internal memo, the Office of Food and Nutrition Services said the new menu is “intended to remain mostly unchanged until the end of the school year.”

“In order to ensure that schools adhere to this menu only items that are on menu will be active for ordering,” the email reads.

“The Menu Management Team has redesigned the February Menu to feature products that will align with a necessitated reduced cost per meal.”

Additional reporting by Khristina Narizhnaya

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