Healthy menu items added to LAUSD lunches

LOS ANGELES "When the food comes out, no talking, no moving around. Just taste the food," said LAUSD Executive Chef Mark Baida.

At the Los Angeles Unified School District Tasting Cafe, middle school students are taste-testing items for next year's school menu.

"We're going to introduce a little food from Morocco," said Baida.

More than 8,000 children have rated a host of different food items, from whole-grain pizzas to shepherd's pie. Tuesday, empanadas and a vegetarian sweet-and-sour soy chicken dish earned high marks.

"The sauce was very swee. It wasn't too sweet it was a good thing and the rice complemented it," said Selene Usher, and 8th-grade student at /*Johnnie Cochran Middle School*/.

They also tried out a little dip and chip.

"I'm trying some hummus with some baked potato, pita chips," said Cesar Hernandez, a 7th-grader at Johnnie Cochran Middle School.

LAUSD Food Services Deputy Director and Master Chef David Binkle says since giving the kids input, monumental changes have been made.

"Three out of four kids must approve for the foods to be placed on the menu," said Binkle.

Orange chicken and brown rice and Asian chicken salad are a few meals that got an "A."

"Two or three years ago we didn't serve hardly any salads in the district. Now we're serving thousands and thousands every day," said Binkle.

At first glance you'll notice that pizzas, burgers and burritos are still on the menu. It's not exactly about what's being made, but more importantly, how.

"A lot of our breads are made with whole grain, our pizza is made with a 51 percent whole-grain crust, we have lower-fat items," said registered dietitian Andrea Giancoli, a nutrition consultant for the LAUSD.

"The kids think they're eating fried foods, but they're not," said Scott Schmerelson, principal of Johnnie Cochran Middle School.

Chicken nuggets and fries are baked, not fried. Burgers have low-fat, low-cholesterol soy protein added. Three servings of fruits and vegetables are served along with a daily vegetarian entree offering.

A winning equation. Kids provide feedback, the chef provides innovative cuisine.

"It's getting them to taste it. That's the key to success," said Chef Baida.

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