Dora Rivas has a really important role at DISD. And though her curriculum doesn't involve reading, writing or arithmetic, her job is as essential as all of those. She's the executive director of Food and Child Nutrition Services, and she's continually raising the bar on what's acceptable in Dallas school cafeterias.
Last year DISD joined five other major school districts across the country -- New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Miami-Dade and Orlando -- in a coalition named Urban School Food Alliance (USFA) that aims to provide more wholesome nutrition for kids.
Together these urban school districts serve 2.6 million meals daily. Additionally they share an annual purchasing power of $530 million in food and supplies, and therein lies their collective power: The group has not joined forces simply to talk about how important vegetables are for a growing body and mind, because that doesn't speak as loudly as $530 million.
The idea behind the USFA is to use their purchasing power to help drive down costs and at the same time force vendors reformulate menu items for better taste and higher quality. The group formed last year during an annual school nutrition conference in Denver and are still working through the legalities and logistics of the program.
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"The USFA is just in the organizational stage," explains Rivas in an email. "We are working with our district's procurement and legal departments to determine feasibility."
The USFA is meeting this month at the annual nutrition conference in Kansas where they aim to develop bid proposal documents and align efforts for improving school food image, quality and procurement, as well as standardize food and supply specifications for certain items like chicken.
While she waits for those details to be ironed out, Rivas is seeing changes in kids' attitudes towards eating healthy.
"We have seen students learn to taste and consume more healthy items," Rivas says. "Our supervisors offer tasty teasers to encourage students to try new foods. Various nutrition initiatives in coordination with school gardens has resulted in less plate waste and improved menu acceptability."