School food has long been criticized for being unhealthy because it often resembles the kinds of "junk" foods we see in fast food restaurants i.e. hamburgers, chicken nuggets, pizza and so forth. Granted school food can use some improvements but the school meals in fact must adhere to nutrient guidelines set by the United States Department of Agriculture. States and Districts themselves can set more stringent guidelines such as what we have done in the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD).
For starters the LAUSD meal program has lowered the total fat, saturated fat, added sugars and sodium content of the entrees. We are now working to incorporate more whole grain products, and more fruits and vegetables into the meals. Vegetarian and entree type salads are also offered daily. We haven even gone so far as to hire an Executive Chef to help enhance the flavor profile and presentation of the meals so that they are more appealing to the students. And we are continually gathering input from those students to ensure they play a significant role in the planning of the school menu.
Yes we are still serving pizza, chicken nuggets and nachos etc. But not every day and they aren't the same nuggets you'd find at the drive-through. They are a "healthier" version of those types of fast food. One can argue that by continuing to serve even the healthier versions of "junk" food we are sending the wrong message that these foods are okay. I agree with that but I also acknowledge that Rome can't be built in a day. The food environment outside of the school needs to change as well so that fast food is considered a treat and not food for every day. It's tough to compete with that.
There is still much work to be done to improve the school meal program but we are slowly getting there. Slowly getting there with a mere $0.67 available in funding to provide a full meal to each student. It is not an easy battle and the rising cost of food doesn't help. However, we have a committed team who believes in the bottom-line that each and every student should be provided with healthy school meals so that she or he can excel.
If you'd like to learn more about the LAUSD meal program visit the Food Services Branch website at www.cafe-la.org .