Lampitt, Garcia & Mukherji Bill to Account for Cultural Preferences in School Menus Gains Panel Approval

(TRENTON) – Legislation Assembly Democrats Pamela Lampitt, Carmelo Garcia and Raj Mukherji sponsored to require public school districts to consider making their breakfast and lunch menus more culturally sensitive was released Thursday by an Assembly panel.

The bill (A-3360) would require superintendents in public school districts containing a middle or high school to establish a district-wide food services advisory committee to recommend breakfast and lunch menu options that reflect the student body’s cultural, traditional and overall dietary preferences if the student population suggests such a need exists.

“Consistency in teaching New Jersey’s children about embracing cultural diversity requires us to ensure that they know everyone is welcome in the classroom as well as in the cafeteria,” said Lampitt (D-Camden/Burlington). “School menus that respect students’ dietary preferences will send a message of inclusion that is central to our state’s value system.”

“One of the greatest aspects of living in New Jersey is our multiculturalism,” said Garcia (D-Hudson). “Honoring that diversity involves making sure no student feels like his or her cultural background is a limiting or ostracizing factor in any regard, and lunchroom options are no exception.”

“This legislation initiates the process that many other states have completed in recognition of changing tastes and food preferences among today’s more informed and health-conscious students and families,” said Mukherji (D-Hudson). “This will ensure that New Jersey schools respect the preferences of multicultural, vegetarian and vegan students.”

Each district’s food services advisory committee would consist of: the superintendent, a principal or principal’s designee, a food services employee or contractor, a school nurse, at least four students enrolled in the district from the middle and high schools and at least one parent of said students, who together would make recommendations to the school principal and the food service provider. The superintendent would appoint each member to the committee, which would meet a minimum of three times per academic year, with at least one of those meetings taking place in each semester or half of the school year.

To determine whether a particular school district needs a food service advisory committee, each student enrolled in the district’s middle and high schools would complete a written form indicating whether he or she has an unmet dietary preference and describing any food concerns he or she wishes to see addressed. The form would also be available via the school district’s web site.

In the event that no student expresses an unmet food preference or a small segment of the student body expresses a preference that can be met to their satisfaction without a food service advisory committee, the district superintendent may choose to suspend the bill’s requirements for one academic year. Still, if any student expresses an interest in vegetarian or vegan options, the district must make all reasonable efforts to expand breakfast and lunch options to offer hot and cold vegetarian and vegan choices.

The bill was released by the Assembly Education Committee.