Chicken tenders. Dumplings. Jerk chicken thighs. Those are some of the most popular lunch options for public school students, but they disappeared from menus this winter.

After the outcry that caused, the Adams administration told NY1 it was going to make things right.

“We’re bringing the money to the table and we’re making sure that the fan favorites are back on the plates of our students,” Kate MacKenzie, executive director of the Mayor’s Office of Food Policy, told NY1 in March.

What You Need To Know

  • The city cut popular menu items this winter, but promised in March that most of them would return to schools

  • But the $25 million they used to bring back those fan favorites is absent from next year's proposed budget

  • That has some people worried the city won't be able to continue to provide the food children enjoy eating

But it turns out that money — and those fan favorite foods — may not be on the table next year. The city put $25 million dollars into the current fiscal year’s budget to start bringing those foods back this school year. But that extra cash is absent from the mayor’s proposed budget for the fiscal year starting in July.

Advocates are worried.

“We need to make sure this isn’t going to happen again and that next year, every month of the school year, there are items on the menus that kids enjoy and they want to eat,” Rachel Sabella, director of No Kid Hungry, said.

The city offered shifting explanations for the cuts, ultimately blaming rising costs, including more students opting to eat. But the city is reimbursed by the federal government for meals served, and told NY1 in March getting that extra cash had just taken a little time.  

At a City Council hearing this month, education department officials would not guarantee the items would stay on menus next year, again pointing to participation numbers.

“We are very invested in making sure all of these food options stay on the menu for students next year. We also know that for food, the city’s revenue does depend on meal participation, and we don’t know our meal participation for next year,” Emma Vadehra, the education department’s chief operating officer, told the Council.

Sabella says the city should plan ahead and assume increased participation trends will continue.

“The city absolutely can put city tax levy dollars in as they wait to see if the federal reimbursements are coming in,” she said.

Henry Garrido is chairman of District Council 37, which represents school food workers — who he says are already doing more with less.

“I think it’s pennywise and pound foolish — like, they look at, what, how do they close the budget gap that they have, when in fact they should be planning much better, in terms of procuring,” Garrido said. “It makes it really hard for the food service programs to procure items if they don’t know what’s going to be on the menu in September.”

Sabella says one in five New York City children could experience hunger this year, and having options they enjoy helps keep them fed.

“As the administration and the City Council continue to negotiate this budget, making sure that kids and families have regular access to meals should be a number one priority for them,” she said.