Healthy Schools – Maggie Memmott Walsh

Back in the spring when my son was in Kindergarten I started checking out the lunch menus at his school (El Marino in CCUSD). I was appalled. Looking over the month of 20 or so meals it was a beige gut bomb of kid food – no veggies listed, desserts offered several times a week and I came to find out that chocolate milk was offered everyday.
No way am I sending my kids down that line to buy that food. I love his school, his teachers, our principal and so much about CC Unified but that food was, and largely still is, an unacceptable choice for my kid. I resigned myself to pack a lunch everyday but also started pulling parents together to start working with our food services director to see if I could improve things. Selfishly, I hoped to not have to come up with a healthy, varied and Iggie-approved sack lunch every school day but optimistically (though not naively) I hoped to improve the choices for all the elementary kids in the district. I think they all deserve better.
So this past spring I started Healthy Schools Culver City, a group of parents dedicated to improving the quality and freshness of meals offered at the elementary schools in CCUSD. We are comprised of parents representing the 5 elementary schools in the district and in short time successfully lobbied the food services department to improve the “third choice” meal offered each day and desserts are offered on fewer days.
However since this fall, improvements have stalled. A trial period offering chocolate milk only on Fridays was terminated earlier than agreed by CCUSD food services and requests to review the detailed food service budget and to review nutritional information of the food provided have been rejected. I’m still packing a lunch everyday and kids in the district are still being served heavily processed and packaged food on a majority of days. Very little food is actually prepared by the talented and able food services staff at the central kitchen for elementary students, most of it is simply heated and served.
I’m starting this column as a way to get some info out there to parents about the current status of food services at CCUSD and share information about the attainable goal of serving healthful, tasty and kid-approved meals on the limited budget all schools deal with. I’m hoping to keep a positive relationship with the district while pushing to improve the quality of food served and looking for more parents to get involved and push the issue with me. [Read, Comment, Connect – That’s what we love to do at Crossroads!]
Thanks for reading and please share this link with those who care about kids nutrition, and get involved.

Maggie Memmott Walsh lives in Culver City with her husband and two children. She works part time as a research manager at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles in Community Health Outcomes and Intervention Research Program. She has an MPH from Columbia University. In college, Maggie managed a student-run restaurant on the UC Davis campus and has been interested in good food with good flavor ever since. Maggie became interested in school lunch improvement programs when her son entered kindergarten at El Marino Language School.

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1 Comment

  1. The single biggest problem with our school lunches, which affects every other aspect, is that the lunch program is supposed to make a profit while still providing extremely low-cost meals. Lunches in CCUSD elementary schools are $2.50 for children and a few cents more if bought by an adult.

    In some other districts, the base price for lunches is higher, which allows them far greater choices of what to serve. They don’t have to rely as much as we do on “commodity” foods (i.e. surplus foods distributed by the USDA) and outsourced pre-processed items produced in bulk for cost savings. But those districts have to provide a greater subsidy for kids in the free or reduced-cost lunch program…easy to do if you’re Beverly Hills, but not so realistic for Culver City.

    I don’t know how to solve this, but I am appalled that we’re using our children to make a profit, while allowing them to be dumping grounds for substandard produce and meat that doesn’t even meet the standards for some fast-food chains. To be fair, some of the items served at the schools are pretty tasty, but far more of them are really awful. Our terrific food service staff certainly do their best, but they don’t set the menu or cook the food. The most they can do is make the lunchroom a welcoming place, and encourage the kids to take and eat their vegetables and fruit.

    Like you, I’ve resigned myself to the situation. We buy lunch four or five times a month at most and pack from home the rest of the time. It would be really nice to be able to give my son a nice, healthy, hot lunch on a cold rainy day, but as the menu now stands, that’s really hard to do.

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