Syracuse schools to add ethnic, vegetarian foods to weekly cafeteria menus this fall


SYRACUSE, N.Y. — Every week starting this fall, Syracuse school cafeterias will dedicate one day each to serving up international meals and vegetarian food.

The district is changing up its menus at the urging of students.

Students in the Alliance of Communities Transforming Syracuse’s Youth Council presented their proposal for changes to school food at a Board of Education meeting Monday.

They surveyed 230 high school students from four high schools and found that 94 percent wanted changes to cafeteria menus.

The top requests? More vegetarian options and foods that better represent the international population in city schools.

The students who presented, led by Dominique Donnae of the Institute of Technology at Central Tech, said they felt more ethnic foods would bring the school community together. 

Syracuse kids hail from more than 70 different countries and speak as many languages. At least 17 percent primarily speak a language other than English.

This year, the district’s Food and Nutrition Services Director Rachel Murphy, who took over the post a little more than a year ago, wanted to overhaul the menus for the fall.

She has prioritized meeting federal nutrition guidelines and moving toward a centralized kitchen, with more food made in-house and from scratch. As part of that, Murphy was looking into adding ethnic foods to the menu.

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For the students, it’s all about the social aspects of the cafeteria and what they’re eating.

The students who presented, led by Dominique Donnae of the Institute of Technology at Central Tech, said they felt more ethnic foods would bring the school community together.

Khadija Sharif of Nottingham High School said she sees food as a way to start conversations and give students a way to get to know her culture better.

The group interviewed students, parents and staff at their high schools’ annual multicultural fairs, where families make traditional dishes to share with the community.

Of the 99 surveyed at these events, 95 said they wanted to see the multicultural foods served in the cafeteria regularly.

The students ultimately came up with a proposal to introduce more ethnic and vegetarian food: “Power Up Tuesdays” for vegetarian, health-focused foods, maybe including a salad bar; and “International Thursdays” for multicultural, ethnic meals.

Some examples they gave of ethnic foods that are inexpensive and easy to make were Indian chicken biryani, Ethiopian Injero, Puerto Rican pollo guisado.

Murphy said the district is committed to rolling out the two themed lunch days district-wide in the fall.

The district is also forming a committee of high school students to give their feedback on the meals, as well as to solicit feedback from students in elementary schools next year.

Murphy said the district hopes to continue increasing these offerings after the first year.

Reporter Julie McMahon covers Syracuse city schools and Syracuse University. She can be reached anytime: Email | Twitter | 315-412-1992





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