Healthy Schools Culver City (HSCC) has been trying to work with CCUSD Food Services in order to improve the quality of the food served in Culver City school cafeterias. The goal is to dramatically decrease processed foods and sugar, while offering what I call real food (you know, fruits, vegetables & stuff that has ingredients you can pronounce). The road has been bumpy, with some successes and some outright failures. The request for Meatless Mondays was embraced and instituted in the beginning of the school year. However, the promised 1-month trial to offer chocolate milk only 1 day a week rather than every day in elementary schools was abruptly halted after the first week, despite parent outcry. See more in this article with HSCC director Maggie Memmot Walsh.
After attending 2 tours led by Food Service administrators, one at my sons’ school Linwood E. Howe, the other today at the Central Kitchen in the Middle & High School complex, I’m DEPRESSED. Here are the leftovers on my son’s styrofoam tray:
When I asked him what he had eaten, he said: “Something you wouldn’t like” (it said mini corn dogs on the menu, but my son thought they were chicken nuggets). The milk he chose was, of course, chocolate, and the yogurt’s second ingredient is sugar (no fruit inside, just “natural flavor”). There is a salad bar with fresh foods every day, and he could have chosen the vegetarian option (chili, which I heard is quite good) and non-sugar milk. But the fact of the matter is that, no matter how much nutrition education I give my sons at home – where they cook, garden, and eat their veggies – they will systematically chose the most appealing and least healthy options in the cafeteria.
Food Services are challenged in every conceivable way – from the demands of the kids, the parents, the administration, the board, and, overwhelmingly, from ever-growing budget constraints. These days, with public education on the absolute brink, isn’t it a luxury to even think about food when teacher pink slips, class overcrowding, and program cuts are so much more pressing? Granted it is no easy task to improve school food, but it is vital to do so. Nobody says it better than Ann Cooper in her 2007 TED Talk: kids go to school to learn, the learning doesn’t stop at the cafeteria door. With the type of food our kids are being served, we are teaching them habits that have lead to a diabetes and obesity crisis of epic proportions. Just imagine, for the first time in human history our children have a lower life expectancy than us.
Is it a luxury to do something about that?
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