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LAUSD ahead of Michelle Obama's healthy lunch program

January 25, 2012 12:00:00 AM PST
Over the last year, students at Castelar Elementary School in Chinatown have been forced to say goodbye to pizza, bagels and chocolate milk, and hello to whole wheat pancakes and low fat milk.

"What we've got is a lot more fresh fruits and vegetables that we're using, a lot more locally sourced produce," said Los Angeles Unified School District food services deputy director David Binkle. "Sixty percent of our produce is coming from within 200 miles of downtown Los Angeles."

It is for these reasons that district officials are applauding first lady Michelle Obama's new school lunch initiative, which she announced Wednesday morning in Virginia with the help of agricultural secretary John Vilsack and celebrity chef Rachel Ray. This is the first national revamp to school lunches in 15 years. The first lady has acknowledged LAUSD as one of the healthiest districts in the nation.

District officials said they completely overhauled their menus last year in response to the growing epidemic of childhood obesity. All meals are now lower in sodium, sugar and fat. They also believe LAUSD was used as a model for the new initiative.

But unlike the Obama plan, LAUSD schools can go further, and have eliminated food like fries and pizza.

"They used to have lasagna by itself, but now the lasagna has vegetables and stuff like that," said fifth grader Linda Ngyuen.

Not all students are happy with their replacements.

"Some healthy stuff we do like, but some we don't," said fifth grade student Sebastian Rodriguez, citing peppers and corn as a couple unpopular vegetable options.

New items like vegetarian curry and jambalaya were recently taken out of LAUSD menus because students did not like them. Still, the district claims the healthier meals are being embraced.

"What we've tried to do with our menus is reflect that culture and diversity in Los Angeles," said Binkle. "We have kids who eat sushi every day, but that's new to some of the kids across the district, so it's an evolution."

While children are known to pick a pizza slice over carrot sticks any day, some students do seem to be open-minded about the menu changes.

"I think it's good for us to eat healthy at school and at home, so I think it's a good choice," Ngyuen said.

The new nationwide program could be beneficial to the LAUSD in way of money. Fresh fruits and vegetables cost the district millions of dollars more than the former lunch program. Recently, President Barack Obama signed a bill promising to help districts pay for the new and healthier meals.