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Popular eats including chicken dumplings and french toast sticks back on NYC school menus

Kids, get ready for the return of chicken dumplings, french toast sticks, burritos and Jamaican jerk chicken to cafeterias across New York City.

Local public schools are bringing back several of popular food items slashed last month from the menu, Schools Chancellor David Banks confirmed Thursday. But some favorites — including bagel sticks, chicken drumsticks, guacamole and cookies — were not part of the restorations.

“Once we made some adjustments, and pulled back on some menu items, we heard from the kids loud and clear — they were not happy about that,” Banks said at an event honoring school food service workers.

“I encourage every young person to continue to speak up about the changes that they hope to see in their school,” he said.

Schools Chancellor David Banks speaks on Thursday, March 7, 2024. (New York City Public Schools)
Schools Chancellor David Banks speaks on Thursday, March 7, 2024. (New York City Public Schools)

The cuts to high-demand food options came as cafeterias are serving an average of 66,000 more meals per day — straining their budget.

“We are serving 9% more meals — more meals than we quite honestly thought we would serve this year,” said Kate MacKenzie, executive director of the Mayor’s Office of Food Policy. “So when we set our budget, we settled them around a number that we think we’re gonna serve. But due to the success of the people behind me, and their staffs at their kitchens, we are serving a lot more.”

“So quite honestly, we need a little bit more money to do that. We’ve been in conversations with OMB and we made it happen,” she said.

Before rebounding, the average number of school lunches and breakfasts served daily dropped over last school year, by nearly 2,700 and 38,000 meals respectively, according to the mayor’s management report. All in, the city’s public schools served more than 774,000 each day last year, the municipal government’s “report card” showed.

In November, Mayor Adams cut $60 million from school food operations, as part of a sweeping citywide directive that required all municipal agencies to trim their budgets, budget documents show. But earlier this week, Jacques Jiha, director of the Office of Management and Budget, raised eyebrows when he insisted at a City Council budget hearing that menu cutbacks were not the result of a cut. He said the budget trim there was backfilled with federal dollars earmarked for school food.

Jacques Jiha, Director of the New York City Mayor's Office of Management and Budget is pictured answering questions regarding New York City Budget surplus during Budget Hearings at City Council Chambers early Monday March 04, 2024.(Luiz C. Ribeiro for NY Daily News)
Jacques Jiha, director of the Office of Management and Budget, during a City Council budget hearing, Monday March 4, 2024. (Luiz C. Ribeiro for New York Daily News)

Chris Tricarico, senior executive director of the public schools’ Office of Food and Nutrition Services, had previously told the chancellor’s parent advisory council that the cutbacks were “minimal,” but the result of Adams’ savings plan, as first reported by the nonprofit school news site Chalkbeat.

Some of the menu items could be back as soon as the end of this month, school officials said Thursday. Others could take a few months to reappear in cafeterias.

“We plan our menus months in advance, so we have to fit all of these things back into the menu. So our menu team is planning to look at the future menus — April, May and June and into the summer — to bring back other options,” Tricarico said.

Anti-child hunger advocates celebrated the announcement.

“It’s a real win,” said Rachel Sabella, director of the nonprofit No Kid Hungry, “because those items drove up participation. When more kids get the nutrition they need to thrive in the classroom, they help grow our great city even stronger.”

One in 5 local children are considered food insecure, according to City Harvest, a nonprofit that helps feed the city. Families with children have experienced the highest surge in food pantry visits of any age group since the pandemic began, according to the organization. It and its partners tallied nearly 11.4 million visits by kids last year — a 67% increase since 2019.

City Hall credited No Kid Hungry for pushing them to restore the beloved school food items.

“We had some room to grow,” said MacKenzie.

Adams, who credits healthy eating with reversing his personal health, has made school food a priority of his administration — overhauling weekly menus with vegan options and injecting tens of millions of dollars into cafeterias to make them more inviting. The Mayor’s Office of Food Policy awarded grants to 60 schools to integrate food education into the regular school day, officials said Thursday.


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