As back-to-school season rolls around and kids load up their backpacks for another year, it appears that schoolchildren in L.A. County can look for some improvements in the cafeteria — more nutritionally balanced meals in the lunchroom, eco-friendly trays, breakfast served in the classroom — thanks to some changes made to Café LA, the program which plans out menus for the district.
In a much-publicized failure last year, the school district tried to implement exotic vegetarian dishes like curry, pozole, quinoa salad, and pad Thai, which got a unanimous thumbs down from grossed-out kids. This year, its back to the classics — albeit with an attempted healthful twist — whole wheat spaghetti, pulled pork sandwiches, fruit sorbets, and lean-meat hamburger sliders.
According to the Daily News, prices will also be going up for regular-price lunches to $2.00, while reduced-price lunches, which consist of about 80% of those served, will stay at 40 cents per meal. The hike in prices reflects both the increase in money invested into the program, as well as an attempt to cover the massive deficit the school district is currently facing.
The menu for the first day of school will feature BBQ baked chicken, a whole grain breadstick, a green salad with cherry tomatoes and baby carrots. Students will choose between 100 percent apple juice and 1 percent, fat-free, or lactose-free milk (sorry chocolate fans).
It remains to be seen how effective things like pulled pork sandwiches and sliders topped with a handful of lettuce and tomato are at achieving the goal of teaching what David Binkle, interim director of the district's Food Services Division, describes as “eating healthy and eating right.”
The LAUSD's biggest conundrum, it seems, lies within its mass-production kitchen policies, which discourage, or in some cases actually forbid, on-site cooking. The result is a choice between terrible-tasting healthy products and easy-prep junk-food dishes that kids happily consume but are loaded with fats, sugars, and preservatives. As anyone who has cooked wholesome meals at home can tell you, preparing a tasty meal that is nutritious is possible, but it requires actual kitchen practices — not just a industrial size steam table and microwave. Until that changes, you might want to consider packing the ol' brown bag.
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