What Los Angeles can learn from Riverside when it comes to school lunches

A few weeks ago, Grist’s Aura Bogado wrote a piece about how Riverside Unified School District is changing the way it thinks about school lunches with an innovative program that taps into the resources of local farmers to bring healthy and fresh meal options for the district’s students.

In a district where seven out of 10 children are at risk of hunger, Riverside Unified School District has implemented a program that provides a fine dining experience to its students with plenty of fresh food options that have been kid tested.

Contrast the food lunch program in Riverside with what has been happening in the Los Angeles Unified School District where students throw away $18 million worth of healthy lunches per year. Making school lunches healthier doesn’t necessarily mean that students will eat them, especially when tempted with less healthier options at home or on the way to school. A study from last year’s Preventative Medicine shows that many Los Angeles students threw away fruit or vegetable items without eating a single bite.

Student nutrition is a key issue for LAUSD. A 2011 study from UCLA Health Research found that 41 percent of 5th, 7th, and 9th graders in Los Angeles County are clinically obese or overweight.

LAUSD can look towards Riverside’s school lunch program as a model of what is possible. There’s a growing urban farming movement in Los Angeles, where local residents and farmers are growing nutrient dense fruits and vegetables vertically, on building roofs, and in abandoned lots. It’s not as if LAUSD would have to go far to source the freshest produce. Additionally, the culinary scene in Los Angeles is so diverse and full of talent that there really is no excuse to not be serving tasty and healthy lunches that kids will eat instead of throwing away.

Enrich LA is a local non-profit whose goal is to bring gardens to the area schools. So far the organization has created 72 school gardens since 2011. With a mix of garden rangers, staff who go out to the schools to serve as educators, gardeners and mentors and a team of volunteers and interns, the organization’s goal is to teach kids to develop positive attitudes towards healthy foods. Students are able to establish clear connections between the process of growing fruits and vegetables and eating them.

There are options for Los Angeles school children to have access to healthy food that they find pleasing. It’s a matter of raising expectations about what is possible and tapping into the local networks who are already working on creating fresh, sustainable meal options for kids.

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Adriana Maestas

Adriana Maestas

Adriana Maestas is a Southern California-based freelance writer and education professional. Her writing has been published in NBC Latino, KCET.org, BlogHer.com, Alternet, and The Electronic Intifada.

She has worked in the non-profit sector, in the K-12 system, and in higher education in various capacities. When she's not writing stories or working on media projects, Adriana trains instructors to teach online at the University of California, Irvine.

She holds a bachelor’s degree in political science from the University of California, Irvine and a master’s degree in public policy from Claremont Graduate University.

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