Health & Fitness, Special Section

Menu aims to deliver a leaner student body

By Aaron Blevins, 10/25/2012

LAUSD rolls out new school lunch program to help combat childhood obesity


The Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) literally put its food where its mouth is on Tuesday, when officials celebrated “Good Food in Los Angeles” and dined on the district’s new, healthy menu.

With the roll-out of a new school lunch menu, LAUSD is aiming to curb childhood obesity and to encourage healthier eating habits at its campuses. The new menu has already been implemented at many schools. (photo courtesy of LAUSD)

The event, which was held in Van Nuys, is the product of LAUSD’s “I’M IN” campaign, a program that aims to raise awareness about the district’s effort to provide nutritious meals. White House executive chef Walter Scheib appeared, and LAUSD board member Nury Martinez, 6th District, presented her Good Food Procurement Resolution.

David Binkle, LAUSD’s interim food services director, said the event and the resolution are the culmination of work the district has done to provide healthy meals to students since at least 2002. The effort aims to curb childhood obesity and promote healthy eating choices, he said.

“Certainly, that’s number one. We want to make sure that our children are here and able to live productive, long lives,” Binkle said, adding that the district is trying to raise awareness as well.

He said childhood obesity is an epidemic across the country, and LAUSD students are not exempt. Binkle said the district has had students die of Type II diabetes.

“It is a big, big deal,” he said.

Since 2002, the district has sought to reduce or eliminate sodium and added sugars in the food it serves its students, Binkle said. The district has also eliminated carbonated beverages and flavored milk, offering fat-free milk, 1 percent milk or 100 percent fruit juice instead. Binkle said Martinez’s resolution provides the next step in providing healthy meals for the next generation.

The resolution calls for the district to use the Los Angeles Food Policy Council’s Good Food Purchasing Guidelines, which suggests supporting small and mid-sized agricultural and food processing operations within the region. The guidelines also recommend purchasing from operations that reduce or eliminate pesticides and fertilizers, and avoid hormones and antibiotics. Suppliers should be eco-friendly, while providing adequate pay and conditions for its employees as well.

“We really felt that it was important to focus on the local produce aspect,” Binkle said. “This takes the next step … and really focuses on the next wave of students.”

However, this development — nor the menu alterations before it — will be pursued at the expense of flavor, he said. Binkle said the meals use other means to add flavor besides sugar and salt.

“What we’ve done is we’ve made those bold flavors come from things that are natural herbs and spices,” he added.

Participants at Tuesday’s event were treated to three courses: a Caesar salad and garlic breadstick; a natural roasted turkey breast, seasoned sliced potatoes and steamed broccoli and carrots; and a pear fruit cup. The vegetarian option consisted of a southwestern rice and bean bowl with whole-wheat tortillas. Beverages served were white milk, apple juice, water and iced tea or coffee.

“I think it happens to be fabulous,” Binkle said, adding that he eats the district’s food just about every day.

He said the district sought to “get rid of the carnival food,” replacing pizza, fried chicken and hotdogs with roasted turkey and chicken, mashed potatoes, fruits, vegetables and tossed salads.

Binkle said a good, healthy meal can make a difference for students when applying themselves in the classroom.

“If they’re focused on an upset stomach or headache, it’s hard to learn,” he added.

The food services director said LAUSD’s contracts aren’t likely to change rapidly, as the administrators and suppliers have been focused on the issue for quite some time.

“This allows us to continue to meet that demand through the local partners that we have,” Binkle said.

The LAUSD will continue to roll out meal programs in the near future, with the hope that all schools and all students will have access to breakfast, a healthy lunch and an afterschool supper program in the next three years.

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