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.

  • Tabaqui

    Sounds to me like the real ‘disaster’ was poor-quality food that wasn’t cooked correctly or well. Moldy noodles? Who’s going to eat that?
    I don’t blame these kids a bit. How about start by making the familiar foods more healthy? Turkey burgers, low-fat cheese on the less-greasy pizza, baked fries instead of fried?
    Cafeteria food is generally pretty unappetizing, so trying to introduce something like ‘lentil and brown rice cutlets’, from a kitchen that, quite possibly, isn’t really set up for more than reheating….
    It was doomed from the start.

  • kirk

    on the surface my idea may sound like a joke but with just a little bit of surfing the subject you will find it is quite well known to be true. you really want healthy meals that the students will accept? start going heavy on hemp seed food products. no buzz, just whole body health benefits from nature’s ‘perfect food’. sure… plenty of highschool students will get a kick out of being served marijuana for lunch making it a win/win

  • Doug

    Stupid kids! When will they learn that government knows what’s best for them?

  • Jason

    “Students especially complained about white milk.” Why is there even any say in this? I really don’t want my tax money going to pay to make schoold children obese on sugar milk, then continue to pay for their medicaid until they die. This is exactly whats wrong with our health care system. We keep acting like good nutrition is some sort of fad while the entire country expands like a blimp. And it starts in schools. If parents want to pack cheetos and Mt. Dew, let them. But if we as taxpayers are subsidizing the cost of the lunch program, we may as well put arsenic in the food and poison them slowly if we keep up at the current pace.

  • Jared Strong

    Would you prefer we start fortifying soda with vitamin D or would you rather pay for medical care for rickets instead of just reintroducing recess and allowing children physical activity to burn off the tiny bit of sugar in lightly sweetened milk? The nutritional benefits of lightly sweetened milk are far superior to the proven alternatives (at least without a societal change which must be made gradually).

  • Christine

    If kids want to buy their own chocolate milk, go for it. The school shouldn’t be providing it even if it meets a drop in participants in the school lunch program. I agree with the first commenter that it does not seem like this was very well executed.
    If the “healthy” food isn’t prepared well and doesn’t taste good, why would they eat it? Undercooked rice and moldy noodles? Yum yum.
    How about substituting processed chicken nuggets for some garlic and herb rotisserie or roasted chicken legs? Or how about a whole wheat macaroni and cheese? Ease the kids into new foods by providing their favorites with healthier preparation and fresher ingredients to start.

  • they would get used to it, ffs

  • boo

    in my opinion when I was in highschool, the cafeteria would prefer a healthy menu, and a regular menu of burgers fries, soda etc, and a healthy menu of salads, milk etc, I think they should just mix it all up this way the healthy people who wanna eat healthy can, and the students who enjoy their soda and burgers and fries can choose that, otherwise students will just walk off campus and go to the nearest macdonalds or convince store for their lunch. that’s what happened in my highschool, when the whole health menu happened(sodas removed, burgers, junk food off the list, all what was left was healthy crap) mostly all of the students in my highschool just left to the mall or nearest fastfood restaurant for lunch everyday very few people were in the school at lunch other then the nerds who ate lunch at the library, in the end the principal learned his lesson to not change what doesn’t need to be changed. instead he brought back the old menu.
    so the lesson is, don’t change things that don’t need to be changed, you can add onto it, but don’t fully change and force things onto people or disasters will happen