Chicken dumplings are back: Officials to disclose food funding for NYC schools after cuts

New York City school kids appear to have won the budget battle over chicken dumplings.

The city’s school food program has been grappling with nearly $60 million in cuts, according to previous reporting in Chalkbeat, that forced officials to drop an array of well-liked – but more expensive – items that included cookies, chicken dumplings, burritos and chicken tenders. A city Education Department spokesperson told Gothamist on Wednesday that officials plan to announce the return of some of those popular lunch options.

“Student voice is a cornerstone of this administration, and it’s clear that our schools are a place where kids want to eat healthy, delicious, and culturally inclusive meals,” said Jenna Lyle, a spokesperson for the city Education Department. “Over the past few weeks, we’ve heard directly from our young people, and we are overjoyed that in partnership with the administration, we are able to restore a range of menu items, including French toast sticks, bean and cheese burritos, and chicken dumplings, that our children know and love.”

The statement came after two sources, including someone at City Hall, told Gothamist that school officials were planning to add an additional $25 million in federal funding to help buoy its food program. The sources asked to remain anonymous in order to discuss details from private conversations.

Schools Chancellor David Banks is set to deliver news about the school food program during an event Thursday morning to honor cafeteria workers, according to a source.

News of additional funding for schools represents yet another budget reversal by Mayor Eric Adams as he faces sharp criticism over steep cuts last year that included a roughly $500 million funding reduction for city schools. In January, Adams announced restored funding for several departments, including police, fire, sanitation, parks and schools. He attributed it to better-than-expected tax revenues as well as cuts to migrant spending.

Students, parents and teachers have complained about the menu changes, pointing out that chicken tenders, fries and grab-and-go salads had been staple offerings at many middle and high schools. Chicken dumplings were singled out as a special favorite. The New York Post reported that students were throwing out the newer vegan options.

The city has offered a free lunch program in public schools since 2017.

In an interview earlier this week, First Deputy Chancellor Dan Weisberg hinted at an upcoming announcement about the food cuts but did not offer details. He said the cuts arose after a rise in the cost of the cafeteria program.

“We needed funding in order to cover those increases in costs,” Weisberg said. “To this point, we have not had it. So we had to make some reductions as a result.”

Jacques Jiha, the mayor’s budget director, drew puzzled reactions earlier this week after he suggested that the elimination of those foods arose not from budget cuts, but from students eating too much.

“They cut because more kids are eating, not because there was a cut to the budget itself,” Jiha said during a City Council hearing.

Adams, a disciple of plant-based eating, defended the menu changes as a shift toward healthier foods. Responding to the Post story about students throwing away food, he said that any food that is tossed out goes into the city’s composting program.

“Taxpayers’ dollars can’t feed healthcare crises,” he told reporters last month at City Hall. “I’ve never heard a doctor say, make sure your child or an adult get their daily dose of pizza and Chicken McNuggets.”

Adams has made healthier eating a cornerstone of his agenda and he has vowed to transform school menus. In 2022, he instituted “Vegan Fridays,” a day where school children are offered a primary menu of vegan-only options. The offerings drew mixed reviews.

The mayor, however, has insisted on the shift to healthier foods. The city has been testing new recipes and allowing school children an opportunity to voice their opinions.

“I know people like to say, ‘Let our children eat whatever they want,’” Adams said last month. “That is what they do at home.”

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