The Los Angeles Unified School District, the nation’s second largest public school system, is being forced to re-do its school lunch menus after a switch to more healthy meals ended up driving students away by the thousands.
LA Unified has been a leader in moving to the more nutritional fare like that being mandated by the National School Lunch Program under First Lady Michelle Obama’s campaign against obesity.
But the Los Angeles Times Sunday reported menu items such as beef jambalaya, vegetable curry, pad Thai, lentil and brown rice cutlets and quinoa and black-eyed pea salads turned out to be hugely unpopular with students.
Dennis Barrett, LA’s food services director, is doing a mid-year revision of the school lunch menu. Hamburgers and whole wheat, low-fat cheese pizza will be back on the daily menu after students indicated they would not eat vegetable curries, tamales and the like that were being substituted.
Thousands of students have dropped out of Los Angeles Unified’s lunch program, which can serve 650,000 a day, and more walk out on days when they especially do not like the offerings. The LA Times reports food waste is rampant with entire entries and full cartons of milk going directly into the waste bin.
Barrett told the LA Times that introduction of the healthy meals was “a disaster.” School lunch enlistments fell by 13 percent. Students dropping school lunches were often seen packing in their own junk food and sodas.
In soliciting comments, school officials heard complaints about mold on noodles, undercooked meat, and hard rice. One principal compared LA school lunches to “prohibition.” Students especially complained about the plain white milk. The school district banned flavored milk, including chocolate milk, earlier this year.
A new report from Georgia indicates the National School Lunch Program, which cost $10.8 billion for more than 31 million school children last year, is experiencing significant growth.
Georgia said 60 percent of its public school students now receive a free or reduced cost lunch each day, an increase of 47,000 over five years. Overall, the state said the number getting reduced cost meals are down, but the number getting free lunches are up by 25 percent.
While federal funding for feeding poor children in George is up 50 percent, state money for salaries and equipment for school lunches is down 40 percent.
The National School Lunch Program began in 1946 when it first served 7.1 million.