03/20/2013 11:34 EDT | Updated 05/20/2013 05:12 EDT

Schools in Calif., Fla., Ill., NY and Texas form food alliance to save money, promote health

NEW YORK, N.Y. - Urban school districts in California, Florida, Illinois, New York and Texas announced Wednesday they are joining forces to co-ordinate school lunch planning in an attempt to keep costs down while providing healthful food choices.

"Our goal is to offer our students nutritious and delicious meals while keeping costs down," said Kathleen Grimm, New York City's deputy schools chancellor for operations. With food costs rising, the alliance "will help us to band together and control costs by buying in large quantities," she said.

The districts also will work together to purchase items like biodegradable trays in bulk, New York City Department of Education spokeswoman Margie Feinberg said.

To kick off the initiative, students in all six districts were being served the same lunch on Wednesday featuring chicken, brown rice with seasoned black beans, steamed broccoli, fresh fruit and milk.

"We created this menu based on the most popular items we commonly serve in each of our districts," said Leslie Fowler, director of Nutrition Support Services at Chicago Public Schools. "Our goal moving forward is to identify these commonalities and work with our vendors to capitalize on our purchasing power so that we're providing the best and freshest foods possible to our students at the lowest costs possible."

In addition to New York City and Chicago, the alliance includes public schools in Los Angeles; Dallas; and Miami and Orlando in Florida. The six districts serve a total of nearly 3 million lunches every school day purchase more than $530 million in food and food supplies annually.

"This show of solidarity is unprecedented," said Los Angeles Unified School District Food Services Director David Binkle. "It demonstrates that all the school districts in the alliance can work together to implement the same programs while serving nutritious meals to our students."