School food heroes at Seattle Public Schools (SPS) Culinary Services are bringing exciting changes to school food programs!
Led by director Aaron Smith and District Executive Chef Emme Collins and informed by feedback and input from youth leadership, parents, and the community, dozens of staff at Seattle schools regularly serve over 27,000 meals to students per day, working non-stop to keep kids fed – even while classrooms were closed during the pandemic. School meals are a critical food access point for many families, particularly in BIPOC or low-income communities.
Fresh, culturally relevant, scratch-cooked meals can increase food access, improve learning outcomes and student health. It also supports purchasing more sustainable ingredients from local farms and food producers, reducing the carbon footprint of school food and decreasing waste, while investing in the local economy.
Above all, quotes from students (overheard at a recent cafeteria in Seattle) really bring home how important good school lunches are to our youth: “Last night I was praying that there would be good food at school and I’m so happy”, said one. Other students said “this will help me focus in the afternoon”, and “this is the best meal I’ve had in three years.”
Over the past couple years, Seattle Public Schools Culinary Services has been working on serving more scratch-cooked, local, sustainably sourced, scratch-cooked and culturally specific meals throughout their lunch and produce snack programs, in response to community and student feedback. Especially through initiatives like their “Taste of SPS” program, which introduces new menu items from different cultures with featured local ingredients at 10 schools at a time. SPS has a goal of expanding the most viable recipes district-wide. Thanks to recent EP&O School Levy funding, SPS Culinary Services will start renovating its Central Kitchen in 2022 to enable more scratch-cooked meals across the district in the future.
Recipes representing the cultures of Seattle students and cafeteria staff alike have been adapted for school meals for “Taste of SPS”. Recent featured recipes include cajun turkey and collard green soup, jollof rice, gumbo, build your own taco and yakisoba bars, chickpea tikka masala, shiitake mushrooms & bok choy stir fry, duck spring rolls, and more.
OSE is working to support the SPS Culinary Services Program through a partnership, funded by revenue from the Seattle Sweetened Beverage Tax, that includes:
- A Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Snack Program that supplies over 3,000 students at 13 schools with high Free & Reduced Lunch Rates with fresh produce snacks for free during the school day. As a complement to school meals, the program is designed to help students eat more fruit and vegetables at school, and expose students to new foods.
- Working with SPS Culinary services to increase purchases of fresh, sustainably produced ingredients from local and BIPOC-owned farms and food producers.
- Some of the featured farm to school suppliers during the 2021-22 School Year have included Muckleshoot Seafood, Black Farmers Collective, Sherman’s Pioneer Farm Produce, Alvarez Organic Farms, Sky Island Farms, Afella Jollof Catering, Patty Pan Cooperative, Puget Sound Food Hub, Farmstand Local Foods, Grace Harbor Farms, Seattle Granola Company, Sidhu Farms, and more.
- Helping to develop a marketing plan and strategy to increase awareness, support, and participation in SPS meal programs by students, parents, and the community.
Check out more from SPS Culinary Services staff, students, and local farmers to see the meal programs in action at:
- Video: Taste of SPS – Shiitake Mushroom Tofu Stir Fry highlighting new menu items, interviews with students and SPS Culinary Services staff.
- Video: Taste of SPS – Sugar Hubbard Squash featuring serving students at Garfield High School, visit to Sherman’s Pioneer Produce Farm, and an inspiring interview with District Executive Chef Emme Collins about the program.
- SPS Culinary Services on Instagram and the SPS website
OSE is also beginning to convene several SPS departments, City and County staff, and community-based organizations (like EarthGen, Got Green, Nurturing Roots, Solid Ground, FEEST and their youth leaders, and more!), to align and support future work on school meals, school gardens, and nutrition and agriculture education across the district.
Interested in supporting school meal program, and student access to sustainable, fresh, scratch-cooked, and culturally relevant foods in Seattle schools?
Here’s a few ways to get involved:
- Eat school lunch! Having more students participate in the lunch program, whether it’s every day or just a couple times a week, supports the program and helps ensure all students have access to good, fresh foods at school.
- Fill out a survey for students or parents to provide feedback to SPS Culinary Services on how to improve the school meal program
- Work for SPS in the cafeteria: SPS Culinary Services is hiring for open positions at schools and cafeterias to help prepare and serve students with good food!
- Spread the word with school administrators, fellow parents, school board, and community about the importance of supporting local, scratch made and culturally relevant foods in Seattle schools
Learn more about the Seattle Office of Sustainability & Environment