Los Angeles ‘Healthy’ School Lunches A Disaster

For many students, Los Angeles Unified’s introduction of healthful school lunches has been a flop. Earlier this year, the district got rid of chocolate and strawberry milk, chicken nuggets, corn dogs, nachos and other food high in fat, sugar and sodium. Instead, district chefs concocted such healthful alternatives as vegetarian curries and tamales, quinoa salads and pad thai noodles.

However, it seems that many of the new, healthy meals are being rejected. Participation in the school lunch program has dropped by thousands of students. Principals report massive waste, with unopened milk cartons and uneaten entrees being thrown away.

Students Rejecting The New Lunch Regime

From The Los Angeles Times:

Iraides Renteria and Mayra Gutierrez don’t even bother to line up. Renteria said the school food previously made her throw up, and Gutierrez calls it “nasty, rotty stuff.” So what do they eat? The juniors pull three bags of Flamin’ Hot Cheetos and soda from their backpacks.

“This is our daily lunch,” Iraides says. “We’re eating more junk food now than last year.”

The new menu, introduced this fall, was seen as a revolutionary step to combat the growing epidemic of youth obesity, diabetes and other health problems. It was the latest healthful food initiative by the district, which banned sodas on campus in 2004, nixed the sale of junk food during the school day and called for more produce and less salt and fat to be served.

The new menus are in line with the federal government’s updated dietary guidelines, which recommend, for instance, that fruits and vegetables make up half the plate. L.A. Unified has virtually eliminated canned and frozen fruits and vegetables, boosting spending on fresh produce from $2 million in 2006 to $20 million in 2010.

But what does that matter if students aren’t eating their lunch?

The Los Angeles Times reports that menu items such as beef jambalaya, vegetable curry, pad Thai, lentil and brown rice cutlets and quinoa and black-eyed pea salads turned out to be hugely unpopular with students.

A Mid-Year Revision Of The Lunch Menu

Dennis Barrett, LA’s food services director, is doing a mid-year revision of the school lunch menu.  Hamburgers and whole wheat, low-fat cheese pizza will be back on the daily menu after students indicated they would not eat vegetable curries, tamales and the like that were being substituted.

Students have also complained about the quality of the food.

From The Los Angeles Times:

Andre Jahchan, a 16-year-old sophomore at Esteban Torres High School, said the food was “super good” at the summer tasting at L.A. Unified’s central kitchen. But on campus, he said, the chicken pozole was watery, the vegetable tamale was burned and hard, and noodles were soggy.

“It’s nasty, nasty,” said Andre, a member of InnerCity Struggle, an East L.A. nonprofit working to improve school lunch access and quality. “No matter how healthy it is, if it’s not appetizing, people won’t eat it.”

School officials have also heard complaints about mold on noodles, undercooked meat, and hard rice.

A Leader In Michelle Obama’s Campaign Against Obesity

Los Angeles Unified is the second largest school district in the country and  has been a leader in moving to the more nutritional fare like that being mandated by the National School Lunch Program under First Lady Michelle Obama’s campaign against obesity.

However, if the food isn’t up to par, and the students aren’t eating it, something needs to change.

What do you think?

Related Stories

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Photo Credit: iStock


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Winn Adams
Winn Adams2 years ago

Update please. This is from 2011.

Joe R.
Joe R.3 years ago

Healthful food can taste great - get a better group of cooks. (Or, invest in bigger desk seats for our broad-beamed students.)

Mrs Shakespeare
Mrs Shakespeare3 years ago

You CANT force kids to be healthy. Even if you made sure all they ate was healthy food when they are at home, they are going to eat junk food at school or at a friend's place or at a mall or whatever, and the more you try to force them the crazier they will go behind your back.
I think you should try eating healthy food, and try your best to make it a fun thing, but not allowing them to eat junk food every now and then will backfire.

mary a.
mary a.3 years ago

It is so imprtant to KEEP TRYING!!!!!! Flavors like curry and Chinese seasoning are so unusual to most children that it is no wonder they reject it. However there are many ways to season healthy foods that are not so strange to the average child.

Susan W.
.3 years ago

Good article, thanks. I disagree that kids who don't eat healthy elsewhere will struggle with eating it at school. If they're hungry, they'll eat. My kids battled me when I first switched to healthier fare, but when they got hungry enough they finally tried it. They are still kids and will jump at junk food when given the opportunity -- so the key is to not give the opportunity. I agree that implementation seems to be the key issue here. Wouldn't it be cool to have funding for professional chefs on staff? How about making it credit for local college classes or even high school? That would be cheaper than a professional, educational to students learning the skills, and motivating for kids to see food prepared by older peers.

Doro W.
Doro W.3 years ago

It makes sense, if kids aren't eating this at home, they sure as heck won't eat it at school. And the cheetos and soda was provided by their parents. Healthy eating needs to begin at home.

Danuta Watola
Danuta Watola3 years ago

Great article. Thanks

Diane L.
Diane L.3 years ago

Here's another link............if I knew how to post more than one link in a comment, I'd have done that, but seems when I try to "copy" a 2nd one, my comment disappears. Anyone know how to include more than one "link" in a single comment without losing it? Just asking...........


Diane L.
Diane L.3 years ago

Here's just one link about chocolate milk. It offers a lot of information on "both" sides of the "argument"..........


Diane L.
Diane L.3 years ago

By using the word, "you", Nyack, can I assume you are referring to what I said? Absolutely not am I advocating for GMO'd anything. Where did I say that? Please don't come in and just attack and argue with what I say, and if you actually have a contribution to make, why not make one?

Even IF the chocolate milk is from GMO'd soy,it would seem to me to be preferable to soda, which contains phosphorus, which leeches calcium from the bones. That is why so many young people, especially more men are being diagnosed with peri-osteoporosis or full blown osteoporosis at younger and younger ages. Chocolate milk is also available from almond milk, and I've seen it sold in many grocery stores. One only has to go to the organic or natural food aisles/coolers.