School cafeteria

As the nation’s second largest school district prepares for the start of the fall semester, student food critics have been hard at work sampling some healthier menu items soon to be found in cafeterias across Los Angeles.

The Los Angeles Times reports that canned and frozen fruits and vegetables are being replaced with fresh farmers market salads, tostadas and made-from-scratch hummus; and chicken nuggets, pizzas and corn dogs pushed out by veggie tamales, roasted chicken and pozole stew.

Credit Jamie Oliver, despite the LAUSD school board’s overwhelming resistance to the host of ABC’s The Food Revolution, for planting a veritable seed of truth about the problems and solutions with the school lunch program in Los Angeles. And whether fans of the chef’s controversial approaches or not (pouring 57 tons of “sugar” on a school bus), he opened lots of eyes to a harsh reality: Los Angeles kids are eating themselves sick.

LAUSD executive chef Mark Baida has been hard at work preparing tastings for 50 students and a handful of parents out of the Newman Center where 225,000 meals are prepared for area students each day. Feedback from the students has helped shape the menu items created not only to be healthier, but tastier than frozen, mushy veggies and canned fruit.

Does the shift to healthier options offered by the school district guarantee healthier students? Not at all, but it’s a start. And an expensive one: Budgeting for the lunches is up to nearly $1 per meal (from 17 cents) and nearly $20 million of the $120 million budget will be allocated for fresh fruits and vegetables in anticipation of new regulations expected from the USDA next summer. Calories are being reduced as is sodium count, and the absence of chocolate and strawberry sugar-sweetened milks will reduce sugar intake in some cases, by more than half.

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image: London looks