Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Observations and Suggestions on LAUSD School Menu

Below is the memo I sent to the LAUSD based on my analysis of the existing school menu.

To: David Binkle
From: Ernest Miller
CC: Mark Baida
Date: Oct 13, 2010
Subject: Observations and Suggestions on LAUSD School Menu

First I would like to thank you for the opportunity to contribute to the nutrition and health of our schoolchildren. This issue is very important to me and I am excited to be part of the process.

Second, I am aware of the extreme constraints you struggle with to feed such a large population of students with such meager resources and limited physical plant. Thus, some of my suggestions may be more aspirational than anything.

In a related note, my experience and knowledge base concerning your operation is rather limited, so my suggestions and observations may be faulty on a number of levels. Hopefully, a discussion of these issues will assist in improving the quality of future suggestions and observations.

Herewith my suggestions and observations:

1. Seasonality
I believe that seasonality is a critical aspect in menu planning and healthy eating for a number of reasons. Among other things, it ties us to the land and the production of food that seasonless industrial food production does not. In teaching good eating habits, seasonal produce is better tasting and less expensive. Quality seasonal ingredients need less cooking to produce a quality output. It forces us to think more about our food, where it comes from and how we consume it. I could go on, but you get the idea.

In addition, seasonality can be used to tie school gardens into the cafeteria. Although school gardens will never produce enough food to be anything more than a small supplement to the school meal programs (if they get in at all), it is possible to add seasonal recipes that mimic what is being grown in the school gardens, thus reinforcing what the school gardens are doing. For example, if carrots are being harvested in the school garden, we should ensure that some variation on fresh carrots are being served in the school cafeteria. This will require coordination between school gardens and FSD, but it will be possible.

Seasonality can also be used to coordinate with other programs, such Farm-to-School and Harvest of the Month.

2. Localism
There is no acknowledgment of local sourcing for any of the menu items. Though it won't be possible for the entire menu, it would be good to highlight when local sourcing is used.

3. Cultural/Historical
There doesn't seem to be much social studies built into the menu, especially considering the rich cultural history of Southern California and our diverse cultures.

4. Salads
The only salads I see on the menu are daily spinach side salads. I believe there is opportunity for more variety and seasonality in side salads. Perhaps it might also be possible to occasionally have a salad as an entree option? I'm not talking salad bar, but potentially a composed salad. There are limitless possibilities for savory fruit salads, grain salads of all sorts, bean salads and pasta salads.

5. Soup
Soup is nutritious, inexpensive and often a healthier option but is not on the menu. The possibilities for stews, chilis, gumbos, paellas, jambalayas and curries is also rather large, but not utilized.

6. Fish
Fish seem underutilized on the menu. Additionally, are the fish nuggets sustainably farm-raised or …?

7. Pork.
Outside the sausage, perhaps, pork is not part of the menu.

8. Breakfast
Hot cereal is not an option – but there is a lot of potential for hot cereals and healthy toppings.
Yogurt is not noted as a breakfast option.
Though it is undoubtedly popular, Frosted Flakes doesn't seem like a good selection for cold cereal.

9. Whole fruit?
Is whole fruit available, particularly for secondary school?

10. Beans and grains
With the exception of the bean and cheese burrito, there doesn't seem much in the way of legumes and other grains on the menu. Such items as black beans, black-eyed peas, and red beans are all excellent sources of nutrition and are inexpensive.

11. Whole Grain Pastas
The menu doesn't indicate that the pastas are whole-grain. If not, I'm sure you've considered the switch.

These are some of my more general comments, I have a number of more specific questions and observations about particular menu items, but will reserve those for our discussion if appropriate.

I apologize for the poor formatting and organization, but I wanted to get these notes to you before our conversation this afternoon.


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