For low-income students, high-nutrition meals

Now, here’s an innovation we can sink our teeth into.

The five high schools in the Escondido Unified High School District, north of San Diego, have revamped their kitchens.

Instead of the usual cafeteria fare, students are eating freshly prepared breakfasts and lunches high on nutrition, low on salts and sugars and void of trans fat. A typical lunch: southwestern salad of black beans, salsa, mixed green lettuce, corn, shredded chicken, a carton of milk, baked corn chips, and a green organic apple.

Made from scratch, not some food factory.

“How can we expect kids to excel academically if we feed them plastic foods?” Pamela Lambert, the district’s nutrition services director, told New America Media.

The district, which serves many Hispanic and African-American kids from low-income households, meets guidelines set down by the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, championed by Michelle Obama, which is pushing many school districts nationwide in a healthier direction.

Escondido, led by Lambert, had already changed its menus in 2007, a move recognized last month by The California Endowment, a private, statewide health foundation. Last month it named Lambert one of its “Health Happens Heroes” as a school nutrition innovator.

The Escondido district serves 10,000 meals a day, most for free or at reduced prices. In San Diego County, one in five kids lives below the federal poverty line, New America Media reports.

Money is tight (the feds pay $2.86 per lunch served), and everything must be prepared on each school’s four-burner stoves. But the staff improvises to keep costs down, and most of the fruits and vegetables come from farms within a 150-mile radius to assure freshness.

Lambert said the effort is paying off in “higher attendance, better academic performance and fewer nurse visits.”

Whether academic performance is indeed rising in the district, which is graded C+ in state rankings, is something we couldn’t immediately determine. But the Escondido dropout rate of 2.9 percent is about half the California average of 5 percent.

Maybe it’s those meals that are keeping the kids in schools.

(Video: New America Media)

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Posted on November 19, 2012, in Innovation and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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