Proof Is In The Pudding: LAUSD’s New MenuMon 28 Nov 2011
Story by Seth Nickinson
Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) launched a new menu for this school year. Gone are pizza and tater tots, in are pozole and quinoa salad. In addition to the 650,000 students who eat the food each day, they are hosting tastings for parents across the district.
As a member of the Jamie Oliver Food Foundation, I was invited to a tasting at the LA Food Policy Council. Given the off-site setting, all the dishes I sampled were cold– including hummus & chips, tostada salad, and banana bread. I liked some more than others, but was pleased overall with the freshness, simplicity, and variety.
LAUSD has been inundated with feedback from its schools. As expected, some love the new menu, and some just want the old food back. Oddly, many people offering opinions – both good and bad – haven’t even tasted the food. The truth isn’t on the paper menu – it’s on the tray, so make time to taste it for yourself.
Trying New Food and Supporting Progress
Studies show that it takes multiple attempts at trying a new food before a child’s palate is ready to enjoy it. As parents, our preferences for or against a food (do you say “mmm, I love that” or “yuck, I never liked that”?) also influence our child’s tastes.
This new menu offers great diversity and LAUSD is sourcing a lot more fresh produce, and a lot more of it locally, than ever before. They are trying to teach kids the eating habits that the Food Revolution stands for. And they need our support to continue to improve. The best thing LA kids and families can do is try the food.
LAUSD will keep successful menu items and discard others. The District is still experimenting, working to get it right. By supporting the new menu and providing feedback, we will keep the pressure on for continued improvements.
Here is a rundown of what I sampled:
• Black-eyed Peas and Veggies Salad: a nice and hearty portion with peppers, corn and a zippy Mexican seasoning.
• Hummus and Whole Wheat Pita Chips: a surprisingly tasty, garlicky, hummus; not serving it too warm or too cold will be key to an appealing texture.
• Chef’s Salad (which will change seasonally):a basic fresh salad with a vinaigrette dressing. Comes in a nifty – but very plastic – package, where you drop the extra elements onto the lettuce once you get it.
• Tostada Salad: packaged like the Chef’s salad, but with beans, corn, shredded cheese and a salsa ranch dressing.
• Banana bread:a simple, middle-of-the road treatbaked fresh on the day it is served, sweetened with apple sauce and made with Whole Wheat.
One of my biggest frustrations was the packaging. Everything from LAUSD comes pre-packaged with cellophane tops. Not only is it a constant reminder that LAUSD meals, produced in such high volume, aren’t “fresh,” but it can be hard to see through the package. Visual appeal, like smell, is key to enticing a student to try a new food. Chef Mark Baida told me that LAUSD is working to improve the packaging. I look forward to seeing better packaging and marketing so kids will actually try the food.
As Jamie is always encouraging, “Get Stuck In” to the food:
1. Visit your school and eat lunch.
2. Encourage your child to try one new lunch item a week.
3. Give LAUSD feedback on their website (use the link in the bottom right)
About the author: Seth Nickinson is the California based Field Director for the Food Revolution.
LAUSD Menu with nutritional information
LAUSD simplemonthly menu in PDF format
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