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School Meals from Scratch?

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Not a lot of interesting news this week so I thought I'd tell you about a very unique charter school I took a tour of on Friday. I suppose "unique" charter school is somewhat redundant, but this one really is. The school is a middle school called LA Leadership Academy.

What makes the LA Leadership Academy so unique is that the school lunches are all cooked from scratch. That is almost unheard of in this age of pre-prepared school meals. In fact many many schools don't even have kitchens anymore.

This particular school occupies an old old building in Koreatown that was once part of church offices and I believe housing units as well. It has a large kitchen that can accommodate production of a few hundred meals a day.

Something else that is unique about this school is they have instituted what is referred to as "universal lunch". Meaning that everyone eats for free, staff included (although usually "universal lunch" refers to students only). They are able to do this because 91% of the kids in attendance are eligible for a free or reduced priced meal. The school is reimbursed around 2 dollars a meal by the Federal and State (very little from the State but every penny counts) governments for every free or reduced priced meal that is served. The school also kicks in some money from the general fund to make up any differences. The Food Service Director also takes advantages of commodities to supplement the program. Commodities are foods that schools receive from government surpluses that are either free as part of the schools allotment.

I toured the school with several of my colleagues and had the pleasure of sitting down with the kids and eating the school lunch. The school serves only one meal with a vegetarian alternative. They keep it simple. That day the meal was pasta with marinara and baked chicken. I had sautéed tofu for the vegetarian alternative. It was delicious!!! (I'm going to try and figure out to make it). As each student goes through the lunch line they are given a bowl of cut up fruit, then the entree and then they have the option of also helping themselves to a salad bar. It's a complete, healthy and balanced meal. The Food Service Director serves mostly whole grain products and cooks with very little extra fat and no added sugars.

Of course as a small school they are able to make this happen and Food Services does have to get the school to pickup some of the cost. But no one is being paid to collect tickets or scan cards so it sort of comes out even.

Universal lunch is a fantastic idea and something we should push for especially in our lower income schools. Each child gets to eat and it does away with all the complicated paperwork. Universal lunch has the potential to improve the health of our kids by providing all of them with a healthy balanced meal.

If any of you are aware of any universal lunch (or breakfast) programs in your areas please do share. I'd like to learn more about how this can be done.

Have a fruit and veggie filled week!
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About the Author

Registered dietitian Andrea N. Giancoli is a nutrition advocate, consultant and educator.

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