Why did the DOE cancel the Healthy Lunch school program?

UPDATE: Because of the public outcry, the DOE officials now say they will NOT eliminate this program.

For several years, the non-profit organization Wellness in the Schools [WITS] program has been bringing professional chefs into schools to teach kids and the DOE’s school cooks how to prepare healthy meals; last year they also provided lunch in thirty public schools. 

Without warning last week, the NYC Department of Education suddenly announced it would cancel the WITS healthy school lunch program, claiming that its meals may violate new federal guidelines – without providing any evidence that this is the case.  According to the NYTimes, “Sharon Richter, a licensed nutritionist who has worked with WITS for several years, countered that the group has always maintained higher nutritional standards than those required by law.” Many parents have spoken up against this decision by DOE, and yesterday, in an apparent PR counteroffensive, the mayor announced new salad bars will be placed in schools under the sponsorship of Whole Foods.  
If you’d like to learn more about the organization Wellness In the Schools and its Healthy School Lunch program,  please contact Executive Director Nancy Easton at nancy@wellnessintheschools.org, Marjorie Wolfson at marjorie@wellnessintheschools.orgor visit its website.  Below is a post written by Victoria Baluk, a parent volunteer with the program.

As a parent of two children who have benefited from Wellness in the Schools'  healthy school lunch program, and a former overweight child striving to keep  her own children from the same fate, I believe the New York Times article on  the city’s decision to eliminate this program omitted some important points.
For the last several years, the WITS program has given kids from thirty NYC public schools access to fresh, healthy food.  It is a crucial step in fighting childhood obesity and promoting healthy eating habits. "Food labs" teach kids how to prepare the items on the menu at home, and inform them about the nutritional values of each recipe. This program is important, it makes sense, and it's working.
The WITS program has been a successful "training ground" for healthier scratch cooking in NYC schools, showing that a shift away from prepackaged, processed items to fresher healthier ingredients is indeed possible citywide.
Sample menu items include: Mediterranean baked chicken, whole grain  pasta with pesto (made with fresh basil and chick peas), vegetarian chili,  and homemade flatbread pizza with fresh vegetables. All WITS schools have a fresh salad bar daily with multiple dressings made from scratch.  The kids  love it and have come to expect the healthier menu.
When the USDA announced its plans to improve the school food menu across the country we were thrilled.  So imagine our surprise when we learned that NYC School Food would not be giving our school or ANY school, permission to  serve "real food" for the coming school year! After teaching our children the value of healthy eating, training an army of school cooks in healthy cooking techniques, and enlisting the help of hundreds of parent volunteers,  like myself, we would be returning to hamburgers (but with whole wheat  buns!), chicken nuggets, and mozzarella sticks (but with a whole wheatdinner roll!).
The DOE’s official recipe book contains healthier WITS recipes that the agency itself had already approved. DOE officials could have chosen these recipes for the new citywide menu but instead chose to go back to processed foods. Why? And what is the lesson here for our children?
From a parent's point of view, it's that money and politics matter more to the City than our children's health.  --Victoria Baluk

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