When Los Angeles schools tried to go the healthy route with school lunches they hit a snag.
The students flipped--they stopped eating the food. Dennis Barret, L.A. Unified's food services director, told the LA Times that the introduction of the healthy meals was "a disaster." School lunch enlistments fell by 13 percent. Students who were part of the lunch program dropped the healthy food for junk they brought in their backpacks, like chips and soda.
As of last week, the Federal Government is raising nutrition standards for school meals. This new movement will try to ensure that students across the nation receive healthier meals in their cafeteria. But LA already tried this, without success.
LAUSD was off to a good start. They tried to turn the tables on unhealthy lunches and re-do the whole lunch menu, but the real issue is getting the students to enjoy the food, regardless of the health benefits.
I understand how hard it is to convert students into healthy eaters. I worked in the healthy foods department at Youth Radio for two years. My job was to cook for a group of high school students. Each meal I prepared had a healthy spin on it. If we were making Rice-A-Roni, we only used whole wheat rice and noodles. Students enjoyed our food and always asked questions about what they were eating.
Although some students have never eaten some of these dishes in their life, taking small steps helped them learn. Instead of introducing students to quinoa and black-eyed pea salads, L.A. schools should take surveys on what students enjoy eating. Encourage them to learn about healthy eating, and the benefits that come with it.
Not too long ago I didn’t care about eating healthy. My attitude soon changed when I started learning about health and the ingredients that were in our foods. M.S.G was a big eye-opener for me. It started a whole chain reaction, and I started seeking knowledge about the food we eat every day. Just by learning and knowing about additives and high-processed foods, I felt even more comfortable knowing that what I ate was healthy at the same time.
I understand this movement won’t be easy but one way to help the process would be to give L.A. students the opportunity to learn more about why schools are changing their meals and maybe the kids would be more receptive when it comes to eating healthier. Sure--it might take a while for students to eat unknown foods, but introducing them to creative, tasty options would encourage students to try new things and become more aware.