Saturday, December 17, 2005

Cheeseburgers In Paradise?

In Los Angeles, somebody needed to do something about the food that was being served in the schools. And it looks as though something has been done:
If you want to grab what you want for lunch at the school cafeteria and eat it before the bell rings, sophomore Meri Sarkisyan has learned, you can't dillydally.

With about 3,500 students on the Francis Polytechnic High School campus on any given day and one 30-minute meal period at 11 a.m., getting lunch requires negotiating long lines and using fancy footwork to beat the crowds.

"When the bell rings, you run," said Sarkisyan, 16.

"The line is so long and you have to go back to class when lunch ends, and they do run out of what you want sometimes, so I don't eat.

"Sometimes the hamburger meat is a little raw and all the cafeteria has is mostly just junk food like pizza and burgers. It'd be nice to have more sandwiches."

Overcrowding, food safety and a lack of variety are common complaints about lunchtime at Los Angeles' public schools, in which 77 percent of the students qualify for free or reduced-price lunch, but most of them choose not to eat it.

So the Los Angeles Unified School District board unanimously voted Tuesday night to improve the fare - and the entire lunch experience - at local cafeterias. That means offering healthier lunches, giving students enough time to eat and holding lunch at an appropriate hour - making it the first district in the country to establish such comprehensive food policies.

The district will phase in portions of the so-called healthy cafeteria plan, including reducing sodium, fat and sugar levels in foods, eliminating trans fats and using more whole grains.

Most of the components will be implemented by the 2006-07 school year.

A survey this year of 189 students at 21 LAUSD schools by the Healthy School Food Coalition found recurring problems such as undercooked meat, moldy bread, expired milk, students spending a large portion of their lunch period standing in line, and the cafeteria running out of food.

The students end up eating unhealthy meals or throwing them away and staying hungry, a lose-lose situation, said Francesca de la Rosa, campaign director of the grass-roots organization committed to improving access to affordable and healthy foods on school campuses.

School board President Marlene Canter, who spearheaded the motion, noted that the district's students are fighting an obesity epidemic, and said the schools are contributing to the problem with their daily fare of pizza, hamburgers and nachos.

About 36 percent of the district's seventh-graders are overweight, according to the California Department of Education. Also, 3.1 million Los Angeles County residents live in households with someone struggling to put enough food on the table, according to the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research.

"It's ironic that those kids who could suffer from hunger are the same group who can be at risk of obesity because they don't have enough access to fruits and vegetables," she said.
It'll be interesting to keep an eye on this one. When it comes to good nutrition, one finds that one can often lead teenagers to healthy foods but it's another thing altogether to get them to eat it.

Cooking the meat, serving fresh bread, and having unspoiled milk on hand will be good for starters.
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