Building Healthy Communities


Laurie M. Tisch Center for Food, Education & Policy

Funding Area

Building Healthy Communities


December 3, 2019


Scratch cooking with whole ingredients in schools can lead to more children eating fresh, healthy, and nutritious foods.

The New York Department of Education (DOE) piloted a Return to Scratch Cooking Program (RSCP) in public schools to shift away from processed foods from school menus and instead prepare and serve scratch-cooked meals to students.

The Laurie M. Tisch Center for Food, Education, & Policy at Teachers College evaluated the RSCP pilot, documenting the systems change that occurred in the participating schools and the lessons learned for how to bring the scratch-cooked food service to all of New York City’s public school students.  Among the findings:

  • 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.
  • Initial findings show that food and labor costs have the potential to move toward cost neutrality as more school kitchens transition to scratch-cooked food service.