Thursday, December 29, 2011

LA School District Sets Healthy Lunches Up for Failure

Trouble is afoot in lunchrooms throughout Los Angeles Unified School District. After much debate and discussion with local government, angry parents on both sides of the fence, and even Jamie Oliver who brought the debate to a very public stage in his Food Revolution reality show, the district made the choice to ban sweetened and flavored milk and revamp its lunch menus with healthier veggie-heavy options. But as LA Times reports, students are rejecting the new lunches and instead choosing to subsist on vending machine chips or pay a premium for burgers smuggled in by classmates.

“Participation in the school lunch program has dropped by thousands of students,” reads the report. “Principals report massive waste, with unopened milk cartons and uneaten entrees being thrown away. Students are ditching lunch, and some say they're suffering from headaches, stomach pains and even anemia. At many campuses, an underground market for chips, candy, fast-food burgers and other taboo fare is thriving.”

Faced with this conundrum, the school district is backing down. “Acknowledging the complaints, L.A. Unified's food services director, Dennis Barrett, announced this month that the menu would be revised,” the report continues. “Hamburgers will be offered daily. Some of the more exotic dishes are out, including the beef jambalaya, vegetable curry, pad Thai, lentil and brown rice cutlets, and quinoa and black-eyed pea salads. And the Caribbean meatball sauce will be changed to the more familiar teriyaki flavor. The district is even bringing back pizza — albeit with a whole wheat crust, low-fat cheese and low-sodium sauce, according to food services deputy director David Binkle.”


It’s a sad crossroad for the school lunch program, especially considering how much good a healthier menu could do for its students – and how much this failure could set back school lunch plans as a whole, considering how strongly some are lobbying for even less strictness on health standards.

But on further examination, it seems that the program’s failure was unfortunately doomed from the beginning. For one thing, most children aren’t likely to just readily accept drastic change – there was bound to be some pushback from kids, especially those who haven’t had prior experience with varied multicultural dishes and weren’t given a chance to ease in to them.

But even more tellingly, the newly implemented lunch plan failed to impress even kids who liked it during preliminary tests. According to the LA Times, one student mentioned that he greatly enjoyed the new meals when he tried them at a taste test conducted over the summer. “But on campus,” the student told the press, “the chicken pozole was watery, the vegetable tamale was burned and hard, and noodles were soggy.” If schools couldn’t be bothered to prepare the new meals properly, it shouldn’t be surprising that students can’t be bothered to eat them.

On the plus side, the most recent iteration of the school district’s meal plan will still be healthier than what it originally started with. But it’s clear that, when it comes to getting diverse, high quality nutrition into schools, this country still has a long way to go.

[VIA: Food Safety News]

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