State of School Meals in CA


7.6.2012  California Watch,  an online periodical, released a series of articles indicating that school lunches across the state are missing the mark for nutrition standards.Based on nutritional data provided by California's Department of Education, Nutrition Services Division (NSD), California Watch concluded that 60% of school lunches reviewed in the past five years failed to meet at least one federal nutritional requirement, with some schools exceeding both saturated fat and sodium limits.

School Lunches Missing the Mark for Nutrition Standards Link

Lack of Funds, Staff Hinder State's Oversight of School Lunches Link

Infographic Link

USDA, the federal agency that sets nutrition standards for school breakfast and lunch, is taking steps to help districts serve healthier school meals. CFPA is confident that USDA and NSD, along with support from non-profit organizations like ours, have already started addressing many of the issues raised in the article.

New Nutrition Standards with Focus on Food Groups

As part of the Healthy, Hunger Free Kids Act of 2010 (HHFKA), USDA was charged with creating more robust nutritional standards for school meals. These new nutrition standards, which came into effect on July 1, 2012, focus on teaching students better eating habits, such as choosing vegetables and fruit over other not so healthy items and eating more whole grains. USDA is also requiring that schools incrementally reduce the sodium content of foods offered to students. Additionally, $47 million was allocated to state agencies to help school districts implement the new standards. California received $12 million to ensure compliance with the new standards, but also to ensure that school districts have the tools to effectively engage students in making menus that are appealing to them. There is no use in having a healthy school lunch if no one is going to eat it. CFPA, as a result, is leading a statewide initiative, REAL School Food Initiative, that is looking into strategies that will help improve the appeal of school meals for students.

REAL School Food Initiative Link

More Frequent Reviews of School Menus

Also as part of the HHFKA, school meals will be reviewed more frequently – every three years instead of five.  School districts that are certified by the state to meet the new nutrition requirements will get an additional 6 cents for every lunch served starting October 1, 2012.

Greater Opportunity to Engage Stakeholders

At several points, it was mentioned throughout the article that there is a concern that students won't welcome the new menu changes which will ultimately lead to more fresh and wholesome entrees.  Students favor "kid-friendly foods," period! But innovative school districts, like Turlock Unified School District, provide proof that with a little extra effort students will try and welcome new foods.  LAUSD, another innovative district, also drastically redid its menu and although not all menu changes were embraced by students, partly due to reasons beyond the menu change, the district did make an effort to solicit student input before deciding on a final menu for the 2012-13 school year. Involving students in the menu making process and implementing other strategies such as behavioral economics and marketing your school meals program effectively, can not only retain student participation in the school meals program but also attract new participants. By having more students participate in the school meals program, school districts have a greater opportunity to use funds earned by increased student participation to improve their school meals operations, such as a purchasing more fresh fruits and vegetables instead of canned ones.

New school wellness policy requirements passed by HHFKA will allow new opportunities for school districts to engage students and other community stakeholders in the school meals program.

USDA guidance on new school wellness policy requirements PDF

For more information, please contact Ariana Oliva at 213-482-8200.