With New York City parents, students, politicians, and advocates clamoring for better school food, the report—Cooking Outside the Box: How a Scratch Cooking Pilot in the Bronx is Reshaping Meals In New York City Schools—shows that the largest school district in the country can turn back the clock and serve fresh, appealing scratch cooked meals to students. For the purpose of this report, scratch cooked food service means: food service that prioritizes the preparation of meals or snacks on a daily basis at or near the site of consumption with ingredients in their most basic form.

The Cooking Outside the Box report is particularly timely given the New York City Council’s recent bill calling on the Department of Education (DOE) to give them a plan and timeline for fully transitioning to scratch cooked food service.

Key findings from Cooking Outside the Box include:

  • Moving from many processed foods to entirely scratch cooked meals required complex systems change given the massive size and scale of the DOE’s Office of Food and Nutrition Services.
  • The model for scratch cooking evolved during the pilot, from an initial focus on two kitchens serving five schools fully scratch cooked meals, to introducing some scratch cooked recipes citywide.
  • While this study did not focus on economic outcomes, initial findings show that food and labor costs have the potential to move towards cost neutrality as more school kitchens transition to scratch cooked food service.

In order for all students to have scratch cooked meals every day, New York City will have to make serious investments in kitchen infrastructure, staff training and advancement, coordination of internal and external stakeholders, and generating student enthusiasm for scratch cooked meals in partnership with the entire school community.

View the reports:


school lunch tray school meals scratch cooked