The bland, monotonous lunches that have been a staple of school cafeterias for decades are about to get a makeover at Oklahoma’s second largest district.

Tulsa Public Schools students will see healthier meals and even have a say in what they eat for lunch beginning in October. The district is implementing a new student-centered food program designed to provide nutritious food options based on feedback and insights from those being served.

In four weeks, schools will replace their lunch menus and incorporate fresh foods prepared with locally sourced ingredients, said Jorge Robles, chief operating officer at TPS.

The new menus reportedly will feature a larger variety of flavorful recipes and international cuisines. Salad bars also will be available at schools, as well as grab-and-go breakfast options.

District officials are revamping the meals program to ensure every child has a stable source of healthy food, which Robles said is paramount to enable high-quality learning.

“We know that eight out of 10 of our kids don’t have that consistent access to nutritious meals, so the role that schools play in providing that access is critical,” he said.

Some of the traditional cafeteria foods will remain on the menu, though students should notice significant improvements, Robles said. For instance, last year schools served mostly frozen pizzas. Now they’ll be made from scratch.

Additionally, students will have regular opportunities to give feedback on their meals. The district will use those student preferences to customize menu offerings and make changes within a six-week period.

This allows schools to frequently modify their menus based on what’s compelling to students.

“One of the things that we’ve learned — and kids have told us — is that they want to have a voice in both the type of options they can access and how they can access those options,” Robles said.

The look and feel of cafeterias also are evolving to make them more accommodating to students.

High school cafeterias will resemble college food courts, with multiple options to choose from as well as shorter lines. Elementary schools will adopt a clubhouse concept that focuses on creating an inviting and engaging atmosphere for kids.

Middle schools may not see as much immediate change as their counterparts, though they’ll feel a little more like a food court experience. However, Robles said TPS is preparing to launch a pilot program in 2020-21 that will feature a “whole new middle school menu and concept.”

TPS also plans to set up mobile meal carts and vending stations in the spring semester. There also will be a meal app that provides students with menu and nutrition information, preorder options and the ability to set dietary preferences and provide feedback.

In addition to maximizing student nutrition, Robles said the district wants to transform its food services into a program that entices families to enroll their kids there.

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Kyle Hinchey


Twitter: @kylehinchey 


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