Brentwood schools to debut halal meals as a permanent cafeteria option

The Brentwood Union Free School District will begin serving halal-certified food in September.

The district unanimously passed a resolution on July 20 to offer a halal option in all 19 kitchens in the district. The resolution was introduced by Trustee Hassan Ahmed, the first Muslim and Pakistani American official elected in Suffolk County.

The district previously considered offering halal food after community members requested the addition, Ahmed said, adding that he was pleased that one of his first acts as trustee was to diversify food options in schools. Halal food is processed in accordance with Islamic law and does not contain any prohibited ingredients, such as pork.

It’s unclear how many Brentwood students will choose the halal option, either because of preference or dietary requirement. Muslim student population grows Y Ahmed estimates that there are more than 1,000 Muslim families in the district, which has two mosques.

School lunch manager Carol Ann Grodsky said the district will survey families to gauge interest.

Dua Hanif, a 16-year-old senior at Brentwood High School, said she was bored by the same prepackaged options at the lunch counter: a tuna sandwich, a bagel and pizza. Anything else carried the risk of contamination, she said.

“It would be weird to see everyone else eat whatever they wanted, but then we wouldn’t have the same luxury,” he said.

Although the district is still finalizing offerings, Ahmed said it will likely serve cooked, packaged and frozen proteins in a halal-certified kitchen. Cafeteria staff will receive training on how to properly handle halal food and avoid cross-contamination, Grodsky said.

The cost of implementing the program is expected to be minimal to none, Ahmed said. Meals are now free for all students.

No Long Island school district offers permanent halal options, Ahmed said. South High School in the Valley Stream district launched a pilot halal program in 2017. A spokesperson for the school did not respond to a Newsday inquiry about the pilot. The New York State Education Department does not track whether districts serve halal food.

“We’re trying to go to the Wild West and create a model in the larger district,” Ahmed said. “There really is no one to look at.”

Dr. Sara Siddiqui, a pediatrician and United Muslim Council board member, praised the Brentwood board’s decision to serve more inclusive meals.

“Giving students proper nutrition, healthy food, protein… throughout the day will affect their ability to learn and make them better students,” he said.

The Brentwood district previously offered halal chicken nuggets in all cafeterias in honor of a halal appreciation day. The addition of halal foods will not only ease the burden on Muslim parents preparing meals for their children, but also serve as a way to teach students about halal foods and customs, Ahmed said.

“I had a lot of friends come to me … and they were very curious,” said Minnahil Tariq, 16, a Brentwood senior. “It’s not just about the food; it is about educating others and sharing about our culture.”

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