Lunchroom workers in Chicago Public Schools are planning more
marches to demand a say in the meals they are serving in school
"We'll be back," they chanted at the first march at the end of
January at Chicago Board of Education headquarters in Chicago's
Loop. The march ended peacefully but with no CPS action on the
"lunch ladies" demands.
Many children aren't eating the prepared meals because they
consist of "hard fruits," "vegetables straight out of a can" and
unseasoned foods, said Elaine Saffold, a lunchroom worker at
Guglielmo Marconi Elementary Community Academy, 230 N. Kolmar
"They're in school all day long and they go home hungry because
they refuse to eat the food," said Saffold, who was present at the
"Workers generally acknowledge that strides have been made to
improve nutrition in public schools; however, one of the major
problems is that children are not necessarily eating the food,"
said Don Lydon, a volunteer at the workers' union and one of the
members who compiled the survey responses.
In the survey report, the lunchroom staff members are
recommending that CPS do the following: incorporate and solicit
their input in school menus, avoid replacing foods cooked on site
with reheated frozen foods, build more full-size cooking kitchens
in new schools, provide more training and education for workers and
encourage the staffers to keep students and parents informed on
food quality and cafeteria safety.
Lunchroom workers cite their views on the meal programs for CPS
children and the struggles their schools have been facing in a
flier on survey results obtained from 436 lunchroom workers. The
fliers were dispersed at the march Tuesday.
The survey conducted by Unite Here Local 1, the union who
represents 3,300 CPS "lunch ladies," revealed that 75 percent of
the respondents reported not having any input on the new recipes or
food that they serve. As a result, less than half of them felt the
students were eating the updated school food.
Lydon said that the survey was an attempt for their members to
have a voice in whether the changes in the nutrition in public
schools were working in CPS.
The report said, "Serving on the frontline, we have a unique
perspective on these changes," describing that the lunch workers
see the students every day, place the food on their plates and see
what gets left in the trash.
Franklin Shuftan, a CPS spokesman, said in a statement that the
district introduced new healthful menus in 2010 meeting the
nutritional requirements exceeding the U.S. Department of
Agriculture meal standards.
CPS enhanced their school menus with a variety of vegetables and
fresh fruit served every day, more whole-grains and low-fat dairy.
Deep fat frying is prohibited and no trans fat are allowed. This is
a departure from the daily nachos the lunchrooms used to serve as a
staple entrée, reported by the Chicago Tribune in 2009.
Anna Galli, a parent of a 3rd grade student at Louisa May Alcott
Elementary School, 2625 N. Orchard St., said she packs lunch for
her daughter every day.
"The dishes are teriyaki chicken or beans with tacos and many
children don't like this kind of food," Galli said, adding that the
food the school serves should look more appetizing to the
Tian-yi Wang, 9, who attends Alcott Elementary School has been
enjoying the hamburgers, salads and sandwiches served in his
"I really like the food and, sometimes, when my friends don't
like it, I just eat it," Wang said.
The workers are also calling for more proper training in the
preparation of healthy food options. CPS has worked with food
service provider Chartwells-Thompson to offer workers some training
on healthy food, but only 26 percent of the workers surveyed said
they have received this.
Of those who had the training, 66 percent felt it was helpful in
their job and provided them ways to help them cook safe and
Chartwells-Thompson spokeswoman Jean Saunders said in a
statement that the company will continue to proceed in the best
interests of the district, the students and all employees.
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