Children in Los Angeles-area schools are eating more healthfully than ever.
In the Los Angeles Unified School District, for example, it’s been 10 years since students have had access to sugary sodas on campus, said David Binkle, interim foodservice director.
“Certainly, the children are eating more fresh fruits and vegetables than they’ve ever eaten in Los Angeles,” he said.
The district has changed its procurement model, Binkle said, and now focuses on local sourcing.
“We have a categorical partner in Gold Star Foods, who is providing our produce directly to the schools for us,” he said.
Sean Leer, vice president of sales for Ontario, Calif.-based Gold Star Foods, the district’s broadline distributor, said LAUSD’s healthy-eating program is impressive.
“LAUSD has a very strong commitment to healthy, nutritious meals,” he said.
“The management of the district is committed to fresh fruits and vegetables, even within very tight budget constraints.”
District officials demand the most nutritious and the best-quality produce available, he said.
Gold Star puts together a salad mix from greens sourced from within 200 miles of the district’s headquarter, he said.
Oranges are grown 40 miles away on 100-year-old trees, and grapes come seasonally from the Bakersfield area, just north of Los Angeles.
“Local” also is an important consideration at the Garden Grove Unified School District in nearby Orange County.
“Every day, we have fresh fruits and vegetables on our salad bar,” said Agnes Lally, director of food services.
“The kids have a chance to enjoy the produce directly from a local farm.”
The district also participates in the Network for a Healthy California’s Harvest of the Month program that features a different fruit or vegetable every month.
The program ties in the featured item with lesson plans in English, history and math classes.
The high schools offer freshly made smoothies to promote fruits and vegetables, and high schools and middle schools even have bakeries where whole-wheat rolls are baked daily.
The district is working to reestablish a grant for a fruit and vegetable snack program where kids were able to enjoy snacks like jicama sticks, green beans and zucchini sticks with nonfat dressing.
There’s also a taste-testing program for students where the district seeks feedback on new items like sweet potato fries.
“I want to make sure what we offer is what they like,” Lally said.
The district’s distributor, Asr Food Distributors Inc., Commerce, Calif., sources from companies like Duda Farms and Taylor Farms, she said.
Contrary to what may be a nationwide trend, salad bars don’t seem to be the way to go in the Long Beach Unified School District, said Darlene Martin, nutrition services assistant director.
The district tried salad bars at a couple of schools, but sanitation, health and safety concerns turned out to be stumbling blocks.
It compromised by introducing “modified mini salad bars” with salads premade in a central kitchen and offered with a choice of at least three toppings, like cherry tomatoes.
The district also focuses on nutrition education and sends communications out to parents.
“It really takes an all-out effort,” Martin said.
The district also participates in the Harvest of the Month program.
Many districts are concerned about new regulations requiring fruits and vegetables to be placed on students’ plates — not just made available — for meals to be reimbursable with federal funds.
“We probably will have some waste,” Martin said. “More will go in the trash.”
The intention is great, Lally said, but the challenge will be to make sure students will consume the produce, not throw it away.