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Denver Public Schools’ Lunch Programs Are Going Gourmet

A breakdown of the costs and benefits behind Denver Public Schools’ switch to scratch-made meals.

So long, mystery meat: Denver Public Schools (DPS) recently unveiled plans to become one of the first districts in the country to make all of its meals from scratch. With the help of Brigaid, a Connecticut-based company, DPS will ramp up its homemade lunch program over the next three years. Here’s how.

60%: Percentage of DPS meals prepared from scratch before the partnership, which aims to raise the number to 99 percent. One highlight of the existing menu is a cost-effective bread program. The popularity of its chewy whole wheat baguettes led DPS to apply a homemade approach to its entire menu: “There’s a smell that brings kids in,” says Theresa Hafner, executive director of DPS’ food and nutrition team.

12: Restaurant industry chefs Brigaid will hire to oversee DPS’ 166 kitchens. It’ll be their job to teach basic skills, like proper knife techniques and kitchen organization, to the district’s existing staff. They’ll also lead creative changes, such as spicing meals up with herbs to boost flavor without adding sodium. But like any good teacher, Brigaid will be judged by how well its protégés—DPS employees—perform, especially after the three-year contract is complete.

$3.00: Average cost of a full-price lunch in DPS’ school meal program. Brigaid’s price tag will total $3.7 million, but DPS is determined to not pass that expense on to students. Instead, the district plans to cover the outlay through nonprofit and city grants.

75%: Percentage of DPS pupils who identify as students of color, which is why the district already serves globally inspired cuisine, such as carnitas tacos and banh mi sandwiches, as well as a hot vegetarian selection every day.

Meals DPS Serves Daily:

2/3: Portion of DPS’ 90,000-plus students who qualify for free or reduced-price lunches. According to a 2014 study of U.S. lunch programs, these kids rely more heavily on school meals to combat food insecurity, and access to nutritious food has been shown to positively impact cognitive development.

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