The Big Idea: Comprehensive School Dining

The Academy for Global Citizenship's goal is to focus on positive health and nutrition, environmental sustainability and international mindedness.

Sarah Elizabeth Ippel
Founder and Executive Director
Academy for Global Citizenship, Chicago

The Academy for Global Citizenship opened in 2008. Our whole mission is to focus on positive health and nutrition, environmental sustainability and international mindedness. As part of our mission focused on positive health and nutrition, we integrate that concept into our overall philosophy, culture and programs. Given our commitment to environmental sustainability, our organic food pilot program has been part of our school’s structure and approach since our first day of school.

We are partnering with Chartwells Thompson Hospitality, which is Chicago Public Schools’ largest foodservice provider, to implement a pilot program in our school where we serve 100% organic and scratch-made food. The program is predominately plant-based. We do serve chicken, turkey and fish. We have Meatless Mondays and source as much locally as possible. Our foods do not contain high fructose corn syrup, trans fats, artificial preservatives, colors or sweeteners. We also developed intentional partnerships and relationships with our local farmers. We incorporate a wide variety of whole grains, fresh fruits and vegetables. We are meeting the HealthierUS School Challenge Gold with Distinction standards.

We have an 83% low-income, 90% minority population. Given the challenges in terms of access to positive food in our community, we have created a comprehensive wellness policy to support an aligned food culture. What that means is we have a policy pertaining to foods that are [allowed to be brought into] our building. If a student is interested in bringing food to school a meeting must be held with our principal to ensure that families understand the guidelines, philosophy and policy. Since breakfast and lunch are such an integral part of our school day we really encourage students to participate at school.

We have a comprehensive structure to support positive nutrition. For example, we incorporate our organic schoolyard garden and have a really engaged chef who interacts with our students about food. Our teachers model positive nutrition practices. We have parent education workshops, family gardening workshops and composting classes. We have a CSA program where we send organic produce home with our families. We incorporate the school garden produce into learning lessons and homework assignments, so students are taking home asparagus and learning to prepare that with their families as part of their assignments. We have 13,000 square feet of asphalt outside that we’ve turned into a center for urban sustainability. We have schoolyard chickens that lay eggs, solar energy wind turbines, rain barrels and a native species garden. As a result of this comprehensive approach we have the highest participation rates in the city of Chicago. It’s around 99% for both breakfast and lunch.

We know that because of the financial constraints the program cannot be taken wholesale and replicated. Our food costs are about 50 cents more per child. We are seeing that [figure] decline as we scale up. But we are taking components and recipes and extending those into the system to impact all of the students in the Chartwells schools in Chicago.

My advice for others is to take a comprehensive approach. We don’t believe that simply changing the food that’s being served in the cafeteria is the answer to improving student health. We really need to be looking at a whole holistic answer and how a school’s teaching and learning philosophy and environment is impacting our students’ choices and overall health.  

More From FoodService Director

Ideas and Innovation
phone bed call sick

We make people call and directly talk to their boss or supervisor if they are reporting an absence for a shift. While it is more cumbersome, it is a conscious decision. We have adapted and implemented electronic methods to obtain efficiencies in just about every other functional area, except for electronic absence reporting systems. The direct supervisor can put more pressure on an employee to show up—especially those with some form of the “Super Bowl plague”—than any electronic system can.

Menu Development
ranch dressing chicken fingers

While salad bars are often the first place K-12 operators look to incorporate more fresh produce, few go as far as making their own salad dressings. But last fall, in a continuing effort to transition from prepackaged meals to an all-scratch menu, Mark Augustine, executive chef of culinary and nutrition services for Minneapolis Public Schools, switched to concocting four varieties in-house—ranch, Caesar, Italian and Asian vinaigrette. The move, designed to eliminate artificial ingredients and lower fat and sodium, presented the biggest challenge when it came to ranch dressing, the school-...

Ideas and Innovation
business card

We get the new folks abridged business cards saying, “Hi, my name is so-and-so and I work in nutrition department.” We thought it would give them more ownership of the program and elevate their status and position in the organization. It also gives our team more self-confidence and self-worth as an employee, which can be a challenge with foodservice workers.

Ideas and Innovation
tug hospital robot

Automation has opened up in recent years as foodservice operators across the country grapple with labor shortages. Robots deliver food trays to patients in hospitals, and they make sushi on college campuses. For some operators, they’re worthwhile to reduce strain on human employees and increase productivity.

Robots roamed the hallways when the University of California San Francisco Medical Center’s new Mission Bay campus opened last year. Though these robots have nicknames like Wall-E and Tuggie McFresh, they’re not a novelty. They’re a solution to a problem that administrators...

FSD Resources