Who remembers the mystery meat, tortilla chalupa boat that LAUSD cafeterias use to serve in the ‘90s? I do and very clearly. It was a staple at Braddock Elementary in Mar Vista growing up. My friends and I use to bargain, trade, do each other’s homework for it. As gross as it now seems, it was delicious to most kids, and we looked forward to chomping down its shell. But is it just me or was the food menu simpler back in the day? It’s almost also as if the cafeteria ladies have put on a magician hat to invisibly sneak in vegetables, tofu, and vegan items to the lunch menu. But these Houdinis still have a long way to go and should consider looking outside for food trends. Here are three outside food trends that are creating a huge buzz around lunch time and supporting kids to make healthier choices.
1. Lunch Trucks
Lunch trucks are now seen outside stadiums, outdoor concerts, microbreweries, malls, business corridors, and now at schools. School administrators are beginning to adapt to the, “If you can’t beat them – then join them” mentality. For example in 2016, Dominic Machi, district director of student nutrition services at Davis High, removed its school cafeteria and rolled in the big blue lunch truck. Machi worked closing with the lunch truck owner and created a lunch menu that met the requirements of the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Schools. Students’ excitement of something new at lunch time created a huge buzz along with long lunch lines.
2. Shop Local & Eat Local
In 2013, California Thursdays, a pilot food initiative to serve fresh prepared school meals made from local and California grown foods, launched out of Oakland Unified. Introduced by the Center of Ecoliteracy, the TomKat Foundation, and California Food for California Kids, this statewide initiative to increase students’ ecological understanding about where their food comes from and how it reaches the table has grown vastly popular among students. School officials reported that students really like the idea of supporting and eating from local businesses. Since its inception, the network for California Thursdays has grown to 3,195 schools, 89 school districts, and has reached 2,000,000 students. In addition, 334 million meals have been served using California grown products along with products from their own school gardens. Click here to see if your school district participates in the California Thursdays Program.
3. Spice Stations
In 2018, many school districts like Merced City brought in the “heavy stuff” like cinnamon sugar, low-sodium Tajin, salt-free lemon pepper, and garlic jalapeno to their cafeterias. They rolled out with a spice and seasoning station, and the goal behind this was to allow students to customize their meals by adding a bit of spice while not having to change the menu. This spice station became very popular, really quickly. Merced City reported that it had enticed students to eat more fruits, veggies, and salads.
These three food trends have become a big hit with students and have provided some answers to the “more options and tastier food” problem. Whether it’s a big food initiative or something simpler like a bit of spice, I believe students should have more say in what they would like. Who knows? Maybe, they can show school administrations what’s cool.
Karen Cervantes Jimenez
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