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LAUSD's 'I'm In' promotes healthy eating

September 6, 2011 12:00:00 AM PDT
For three years, Chef Mark Baida has fed LAUSD children at his Tasters Café, taste testing foods a bit foreign to them, yet providing vital feedback, as only the most popular items make it on the school menu.

"Accumulating the data, talking to the customers, seeing what sparks what doesn't spark, and where I can push the limits a little bit," Baida said.

"We've been eating the same thing since elementary, so to have a new menu is like, it's exciting," said Marleene Reyes, a junior at Esteban E. Torres High School.

The new healthy meals is a big a part of "I'm In," a new LAUSD program raising awareness on obesity, exercise and school attendance.

"The pledge is to do the right thing. Character building, as well as getting in school, staying in school and graduating," David Binkle, LAUSD deputy director of food service.

Baida's menu exceeds USDA dietary guidelines. Foods are low in fat, calories, sodium, with nothing canned or frozen.

It's pretty creative stuff when you realize a school meal costs under $1, and they feed 650,000 children daily.

Other new favorites on the menu include Ancho chile chicken with yakisoba noodles, Pad Thai, posole and roasted vegetable tamales with no lard or chicken fat. Through his prodding and their input, he's expanded their culinary culture.

"We're breaking through with over 60 items to this menu right now, and everything is new," Baida said.

The five-year campaign is supported by a portion of a government grant and a handful of food manufacturers making costs more efficient by using ad dollars to promote "I'm In" in retail stores.

There is also collateral for kids like T-shirts and trading cards, and backpack stuffers for parents as well.

"We'll start to see in October billboards, bus stop advertising, and it really is a focus of trying to make sure the community understands that we're all in," Binkle said.

The program starts with food service but will expand into other areas of school. They ultimately want kids to say, "I'm in for healthy eating," "I'm in for exercise," and the big one, "I'm in for graduation."

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