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SD Unified Working To Make School Lunches Healthier

Audio

Aired 8/16/10

What is the San Diego Unified School District doing to make school lunches healthier? We speak to the district's food services director, and dietitian about their plans to improve nutrition, and reduce childhood obesity by eliminating processed foods and buying more local produce.

A selection of the food offered by San Diego Unified School District.
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Above: A selection of the food offered by San Diego Unified School District.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH (Host): I'm Maureen Cavanaugh, and you're listening to These Days on KPBS. Chicken fried something, spaghetti, and mystery meat used to be hallmarks of school cuisine back in the day. But San Diego Unified School District says those days are no more. Not only are school meals getting healthier, but many students say they are tastier too. The number of students who bought meals on campus at San Diego Unified last year increased as items like Asian bowls and chicken wraps were introduced. This coming school year, San Diego Unified wants to keep up the healthy trend by introducing more fresh food, straight from local growers. I’d like to introduce my guests. Gary Petill is director of food and nutrition services for the San Diego Unified School District. And, Gary, welcome.

GARY PETILL (Director, Food and Nutrition Services, San Diego Unified School District): Thank you, Maureen.

CAVANAUGH: Kim Wright is dietitian for the San Diego Unified School District. Kim, good morning. Thanks for coming in.

KIM WRIGHT (Dietitian, San Diego Unified School District): Good morning, Maureen.

CAVANAUGH: Now we’d like to invite our listeners to join the conversation. Does your child like the food served at school? What would you like to see introduced on school menus? Give us a call with your questions and comments. Our number is 1-888-895-5727, that’s 1-888-895-KPBS. Gary, now I know your background is in the hotel industry, so what are some of the things that you noticed about the school food service when you came onboard at San Diego Unified?

PETILL: Well, Maureen, when I first joined the team, I noticed that there were very few choices for the children. There were no salad bars. But there was a very positive and passionate staff that was willing to change and take the venture.

CAVANAUGH: Uh-huh. And so you were involved in providing food for people in hotels, so what did you know that people liked? What did you know that were the real things that got people excited about a menu?

PETILL: Well, one of the things was the presentation of food, the other how food smells…

CAVANAUGH: Uh-huh.

PETILL: …and how it’s put together, fresh and easy. And, you know, we try to eliminate processed foods as we go through the next few years.

CAVANAUGH: Now, I know that some of the changes you’ve implemented in the food service since you took over have to do with things that you’ve been talking about. Tell us about some of those changes.

PETILL: Well, changes in getting all the children to have the opportunity to make a choice, and a healthy choice. And I firmly believe that if children have a healthy choice, they’ll choose a healthy choice. We rolled out salad bars in all of our schools. First we started with the young children because we believe that’s a lifelong habit that they learn at a very young age on how to eat healthy. We rolled out the salad bars and now we’re doing some of assembly, scratch-type cooking and trying to also work with the local farmers to bring fresher products to the table.

CAVANAUGH: Now I know that when you first got to San Diego Unified, one of the things that you noticed was there was very little choice for the kids in their school lunch menus and you felt it was important to provide different meal options. Why is that important, Gary?

PETILL: Well, children need to have a choice just like adults do. And, like I said, if it’s healthy, they’ll choose healthy. There wasn’t very much variety and children really, you know, they’re really smart and they learn really fast and at first when you put salad bars in with four choices—and we always have a vegetarian choice as well—most people, teachers and prinicipal said, oh, this is going to hold our lines up, and it really didn’t. Children made a good choice, they made their salads, and they moved on to the lunch court.

CAVANAUGH: I see, so they thought, oh, they’re just going to stand there and stare at the food and they’re not going to be able to decide what they want. But that didn’t happen.

PETILL: Not at all. And, in fact, we always ask teachers to help us encourage the children, and our team to coach the children on the salad bars to make healthy choices and to pick as many fresh fruits and vegetables as they can.

CAVANAUGH: I’m speaking with Gary Petill. He’s director of food and nutrition services for the San Diego Unified School District. Kim Wright is my other guest, dietitian for the San Diego Unified School District. And we’re asking you if you’d like to join the conversation about the food served at school at San Diego Unified. If you have questions or comments, give us a call at 1-888-895-5727. Kim, what would you say were the nutritional goals for the school district?

WRIGHT: Well, number one, we have a lot of federal and state rules that we need to follow but the big thing that Gary’s been talking about is having those fresh fruits and vegetables available so children do have variety in front of them so they get a number of different vitamins and minerals presented to them on a daily basis and then they can try new things. Every month, we have a Harvest of the Month fresh fruit and vegetable on so that they can see a new different fruit or vegetable so that they can venture out and try new things.

CAVANAUGH: Ah, that’s interesting. So something that – give me an example of what that might be.

WRIGHT: One year – one month last year, we had radishes…

CAVANAUGH: Aha.

WRIGHT: …and that was really popular and that’s something that, you know, the kids like. They’re – A lot of kids recognize that already from at home and that’s something that will be permanently on our salad bar this next year.

CAVANAUGH: I know that you’ve brought in some menu options here today and, I must say, they smell wonderful. Why don’t you tell us a little bit about it. Kim, why don’t you start and describe one of these menu options that you’ve brought in. This looks like a wonderful salad.

WRIGHT: This first salad is our Asian chicken salad. It has mandarin oranges on it with garbanzo beans and grilled chicken with some sesame seeds over a fresh bed of romaine lettuce, and a low – fat free Oriental salad dressing.

CAVANAUGH: And this is one of the Asian bowls that I spoke about, is that right?

WRIGHT: Yes. And this is our Schezwan chicken bowl. It’s over rice with whole pieces of chicken…

CAVANAUGH: Uh-huh.

WRIGHT: …with a Schezwan sauce with fresh carrots, peas and bell peppers.

CAVANAUGH: I must say, Gary, they look very different from the school menu items that I remember. How about you?

PETILL: Oh, I think this is great. And our next one is for our vegan and vegetarian children.

WRIGHT: We have partnered with a local vendor who is providing us with chili mole. It’s a fresh chili that we are serving over rice, and he uses all fresh, local products, so this is a local vendor, local products for our school lunches. And, like Gary said, it’s vegan and vegetarian, so we have our first vegan option on the secondary menu.

CAVANAUGH: And I must say, the size of these menu items seem to be just about the size you would get at a – if you went to a regular sort of fast food place and got an Asian bowl or – It’s not tiny. It’s a good sized portion.

WRIGHT: Right, and that’s partially dictated by the rules that we need to follow to make sure that the calories meet for the age groups. And then this is what the students want. They want a substantial meal that they can eat quickly and get ready for their afternoon classes.

PETILL: But the greatest thing about the bowls, Maureen, is that students can hold the bowl and socialize because they get 30 minutes for lunch and they want to spend their time socializing and seeing their friends and so we – they call it the magic bowl. And the magic bowl is walked around campus as students can eat and socialize at the same time.

CAVANAUGH: Good idea. We’re taking your calls at 1-888-895-5727. Let’s talk to David right now, calling us from Kensington. Good morning, David, and welcome to These Days.

DAVID (Caller, Kensington): Good morning. Thanks for taking my call. I’m very supportive of the changes you’ve been making in the food program at the district. I’m concerned about what might happen with the potential budget cutbacks in the coming year. How might that affect your…

CAVANAUGH: Right, the food selections and the menus at the schools?

DAVID: Yes.

CAVANAUGH: Okay.

PETILL: David, that’s a very good point, and it will not affect us at all. In fact, our budget is separate than the district’s budget. Our funds are generated from the USDA, the state, very little money from the state, actually, and also from revenues that we generate from parents buying their children meals.

CAVANAUGH: And so how much – if a student is paying for these meals, how much do they cost?

PETILL: Well, in our elementary program, they’re $2.00, and $2.50 if you’re a middle or high school.

CAVANAUGH: I see. Okay. And I want to ask you a little bit, too, about the program that you have because I know you’ve been working to increase participation in the program for lunches for kids who, basically, their families qualify for free lunches. Tell us about that.

PETILL: Well, you know, the – with the economy the way it’s been over the last couple of years, we’ve noticed a tremendous spike in more families becoming eligible for the federally funded program. And with the economy, loss of job and work for families, more and more children are qualifying. We want to urge parents not to feel bad about that. It’s something that’s owed to them and they can certainly participate if they have a loss of job. So our meals have increased in participation there but we’ve also seen a major increase in children whose parents have to pay for their meals because we feel the food is fresher, it’s better, and has a whole new twist to it and the staff smiles.

CAVANAUGH: We’re taking your calls at 1-888-895-5727 about school lunches at San Diego Unified. And John (sic) is calling us from Miramar. Good morning, John, and welcome to These Days.

DON (Caller, Miramar): Hi, it’s Don but good morning.

CAVANAUGH: Hi, Don.

DON: Thank you for taking my call.

CAVANAUGH: Umm-hmm.

DON: It just sounds great. I’m just wondering if your guests are – have followed any of Jamie Oliver, the Celebrity Chef’s, efforts in this regard. I was rather amazed when he did some – put some effort into changing school lunches in England and the nutritional aspects alone have a direct relationship to behavior and learning, what they were getting as opposed to what he wanted them to get, it was astonishing. Some of the things like flavored milk, the sweetened milk, there’s more sugar in the milk than in any of the soda pop. So I was pretty astonished at the relationship between nutrition, learning and behavior.

CAVANAUGH: Don, thank you for the call. And he’s talking about Celebrity Chef Jamie Oliver, there was a program, a series of programs…

PETILL: Umm-hmm.

CAVANAUGH: …that he conducted trying to change the way that school cafeterias, the selections that they had. And I’m wondering what your thoughts are about that.

PETILL: Well, I think Jamie’s our hero and I think Jamie’s exposed something across the nation that we’ll make more people aware of. You know, we work with the USDA and they give us commodity selections based on our entitlement dollars that we get each year and some of that product’s great but a lot of it is canned fruits and vegetables and those are the types of things we want to go away from. And, Don, you also brought up about milk, and I wanted to make this announcement at KPBS today that we’re eliminating chocolate milk from the breakfast program at the start of this year’s school and with that we are encouraging parents, teachers and our workers to let children know that it’s healthier to drink white milk than to have the chocolate milk in the morning especially.

CAVANAUGH: Well, tell us more about why you decided – what went into that? And, Kim, I want you to – What went into that decision to eliminate because I know chocolate milk is a big favorite with kids everywhere and certainly at school as well.

WRIGHT: Well, like the caller, Don, had said, that there’s an added sugar in the chocolate milk, and starting off the day, you know, we want them to have a good breakfast. Sugar has become a mainstay in children’s diets, with the sodas and Kool-Aids and other fast drinks that are out there that they consume so by taking away that chocolate milk option at breakfast, then they’re getting milk, they’re getting protein without all that added sugar to start off the day.

CAVANAUGH: Yeah, did you think there was a conflict, Gary, between the idea of working against sodas, heavily sugared sodas, that is, and also having chocolate milk on the menu?

PETILL: Well, we eliminated sodas some years ago. You know, and to start your day with chocolate…

CAVANAUGH: Right.

PETILL: …milk just probably isn’t the right way to start your day. And we serve 24,000 children each day breakfast in the classroom, which is an amazing program that gets children and teachers engaged in learning right from the start of school.

WRIGHT: And I do want to comment that there’s about 7 grams of added sugar to chocolate milk. So that’s not a lot of sugar in the diet. It’s looking at the child’s overall diet, and overall they’re getting more sugar in their diet. So by eliminating this choice in the morning, we’re, hopefully, making a small dent in that consumption.

PETILL: And exercise is so important as well and, you know, we’re encouraging that and we’ve partnered with the San Diego Chargers and the NFL Play 60 to make sure that children are aware of how they can play for 60 minutes a day.

CAVANAUGH: We are taking another call. We’re taking your calls at 1-888-895-5727. Trisha is calling from Santee. Good morning, Trisha, and welcome to These Days.

TRISHA (Caller, Santee): Oh, great. Good morning. Hi, great show. Yeah, I just had a quick question. I ment – hear they’ve used rice. I was wondering, is it brown rice or is it white rice they’re using?

WRIGHT: Right now we’re using white rice. We have tried to move to brown rice but we’ve had issues with participation, acceptance from the kids, and then getting a product that we can maintain in our storerooms and the shelf life.

CAVANAUGH: How difficult is it to make these changes, Kim? It sounds as if there are a lot of hoops that you have to jump through, a lot of levels of finding a source for this stuff and then getting acceptance from the kids. Is it like turning the Titanic?

WRIGHT: At times but also we need to work with the kids. We do focus groups with the students to find out what they like, what they don’t like, and then we will try things with them. And it may just not be the right time or place but yet we’ll try again.

CAVANAUGH: We’re taking another call. Linda, calling us from Scripps Ranch. Good morning, Linda. Welcome to These Days.

LINDA (Caller, Scripps Ranch): Good morning. Yes, I would like to know – the salad bar in the elementary school is great and I’m wondering if they are going to gradually eliminate the fried like the chicken nuggets and the fish nuggets?

CAVANAUGH: Are you going to eliminate chicken nuggets?

PETILL: Absolutely. And that is something we have been trying to turn a Titanic on. We are going to eliminate chicken nuggets in, you know – our march here in the next three years is to eliminate all processed foods. And we’re looking for better products, which cost more money. What we’re trying to do is in-source our food where we can actually make some of our own products and prepare our own products rather than buying the frozen products that come in shipments from manufacturers across the country. It’s also better for the ecosystem if we get fresh local products and produce our own. And so, yes, we will be eliminating those chicken nuggets and we’ll get back to you on that one.

CAVANAUGH: Okay.

WRIGHT: I do want to comment that none of our foods are fried. We have no fryers in any of our schools. Everything is baked.

CAVANAUGH: Okay.

WRIGHT: So that has been a misconception…

CAVANAUGH: Okay.

WRIGHT: …throughout the district.

CAVANAUGH: Well, we have to take a short break and when we return, we will continue talking about school lunches at San Diego Unified and take your calls, your questions and your comments at 1-888-895-5727. You’re listening to These Days on KPBS.


CAVANAUGH: I'm Maureen Cavanaugh. You're listening to These Days on KPBS. We’re talking about San Diego Unified School District and their efforts to get school meals healthier and actually tastier for students. My guests are Gary Petill. He’s director of food and nutrition services for the San Diego Unified School District. And Kim Wright, who is dietitian for San Diego Unified. We’re taking your calls, your questions and your comments at 1-888-895-5727. Kim, I want to ask you more about this plan, this ambitious plan, that the district has to eliminate all processed foods at – for school menu choices for lunch or breakfast in the next three years. What’s – I wonder, what goes into that? What do you need to do in order to accomplish that?

WRIGHT: Part of that is going to the manufacturers that are producing these products and giving them our vision. Part of it needs to be reformulated at their end, and part of it’s working with the local companies and the local vendors to find products where we can, as Gary talked about before, assembling our own products here in San Diego or working with the vendors to have them manufacture something or piece by piece so that we can assemble it.

CAVANAUGH: Give me an idea, give me an example, of how you’re working with local vendors, perhaps even local growers, to get some fresh, non-processed meal items on the menu for San Diego students.

WRIGHT: Well, currently San Diego is working – There’ve been many meetings with all the local farmers trying to build a co-op. They’re very interested in getting their products into our schools rather than sending it up and out of the area and we have just brought on a new member of our team to work specifically on the Farm to School program. So it’s coming. It’s going to take some time but, hopefully, one of the first steps is to work with the growers, let them understand our needs with some of our process – products need to be processed before we can get it on the salad bar, with, you know, just cleaned and cut up, and then our volume. I mean, we serve food to over 300 different schools or programs and so that’s a huge volume that just our local farmers may not be able to meet right off the bat. But it’s building that partnership, letting them know what’s on our menus, and we’re working on it, slowly but surely.

CAVANAUGH: And, Gary, that must be a big impetus for the local growers, the local producers to get involved in that, the sheer volume of what you need. How many students per day on a school day do you feed?

PETILL: Well, we have 132,000 students in the district. We’re serving over 140,000 meals a day. So if you do the math, generally we’re at about 40,000 children eating breakfast a day, and the rest have lunch with us. So we’re trying to get to every student. The new Farm to School Coordinator that we have on board is going to do a terrific job of bringing the local farmers together and being able to meet the needs of the production and the distribution, and that also means organic products as well. I’m really excited about the organic fruits and vegetables that we can bring to our children.

CAVANAUGH: Let’s take some calls because there are so many people who want to join us and, in fact, if you can’t get in and you’d like to put your comment online, you can go to KPBS.org/thesedays. Paulina is calling us from Clairemont, and good morning, Paulina. Welcome to These Days.

PAULINA (Caller, Clairemont): Good morning. I can’t keep from thinking of the wonderful abundance of melon this time of the year and hope you’re getting into that. But that’s not why I called.

CAVANAUGH: Okay.

PAULINA: I just wondered if there’s anything in the curriculum or has anyone suggested that they have some kind of a program where the kids can have some input in this program? It’s, of course, an ideal thing.

CAVANAUGH: Right. Let me find out. Anything – Is there any way that kids can translate some healthy information that they’re getting from their course work to what they’re eating for lunch and breakfast, and vice versa? Is there any crossover in what they’re eating and what they’re learning about?

WRIGHT: We try. From our office, we do send out a newsletter every month to all of our elementary students and it talks about – it always has an article about health and nutrition or exercise. And then we also highlight that Harvest of the Month fresh fruit or vegetable. But at the school site, it really depends on the teacher and the interest that they have at their site. We have curriculum available for teachers if they are interested. There’s other curriculum out there as well.

CAVANAUGH: Because I know there are some schools in the county that have their kids basically planting things and harvesting them and using them in menus and so forth. And I was wondering if there was anything going on like that at San Diego Unified?

PETILL: Well, we have done that at some of our schools and some of our gardens are in different forms. Some are the science teacher takes and builds a little garden box outside of their classroom and then we have others, Central Elementary School has a wonderful garden and we have a local chef that has helped us. And when we harvest that, we put that and feature it on the salad bar and do a little educational seminar on it. We want to work with local chefs and we will be working with local chefs in the very near future on doing demos for parents and children and teaching them how to take a tamale and how to make it healthy, for instance.

CAVANAUGH: We have a caller on the line who wants to ask that question. Daniel is calling from Clairemont. Good morning, Daniel, welcome to These Days.

DANIEL (Caller, Clairemont): Thank you very much. It’s a great topic and great show. Thank you for doing this for the children. I’m just wondering if they ever have a Invite-A-Parent-To-Lunch Day or breakfast day because so many parents seem to be neglecting their nutritional needs and might need a little bit of example and having them have to go through the salad bar might be something that they don’t do too often. The last thing I’d like to say is why not have more farmer’s markets on the weekday at the school basis so the community could come around and see what the school’s like and also the children could see the farmer’s market and pick directly and say, Mom, Dad, this is what we have at school. Why can’t we have this at home?

CAVANAUGH: Daniel, thank you so much. I’d like to get your reaction, Gary.

PETILL: Well, Daniel, thank you. We have barbeques and fiestas that we do to invite parents on days, and you can check with your school where your children are going, and each school does two, which would be a fiesta and a barbeque, each year. And we bring our teams out there, we encourage parents to come out for the day and eat with us, and we charge a minimal fee, and we even have parents volunteer to work with us—and they get to eat for free, too. And to answer the second part of your question, we’re looking at all unused property in San Diego Unified right now to see where we can put in community and student gardens. And we’ve got some unused property that we’re going to do that with and that’s why we’re excited about bringing on our new person.

CAVANAUGH: Where have you identified that, can you tell us?

PETILL: Well, not only the schools themselves but there are – is – there are some unused properties. In Linda Vista, we have some land. Out in South San Diego, there’s some properties. And we’re evaluating that right now, where we can take that land and put it to use and really have some sustainable agriculture happening right in our own very district and our communities.

CAVANAUGH: That is exciting. Carol is calling us from El Cajon. Good morning, Carol, and welcome to These Days.

CAROL (Caller, El Cajon): Yes, good morning. My question is – I was listening to all of the question and comments. With all of the wonderful preparation coming in, why is there no hot meals or heated breakfastses (sic) in the morning? What happened to the actual preparation in the schools so the kids can, you know, smell the aroma of the foods that are being prepared for them? I mean, that was just like one of the highlights when I was going to elementary school, to, you know, smell the breakfast in the morning being prepared and it’s hot and it makes your tummy feel really warm and fuzzy inside and you’re ready for school in the morning. That’s my question, and I’ll take my comment off the air. Thank you for talking…

CAVANAUGH: Well, thank you, Carol.

CAROL: …to me. Thank you.

WRIGHT: We are still serving hot breakfasts in the schools.

CAVANAUGH: Okay.

WRIGHT: In most of the elementary schools, they have Kids Choice Breakfast where they have the option of yogurt or cereal or a hot food item.

CAVANAUGH: Right.

PETILL: We have hot oatmeal as well, which is a great thing. And also like an egg burrito that we’ll do, or a bean and cheese burritos…

WRIGHT: Umm-hmm.

PETILL: …in the morning. But we’d like to find out where that school is that she may be thinking of and…

WRIGHT: Yeah.

PETILL: …we’ll go out and investigate that.

CAVANAUGH: Well, she was calling from El Cajon, so that might be the difference…

PETILL: Ahh…

CAVANAUGH: …there. We are taking your calls at 1-888-895-5727. You know, Kim, I want to ask a little bit more about the idea of really getting kids on board with this because, you know, I think everyone who’s dealt with children, who’s been a parent or a teacher, knows it’s sometimes difficult to get kids to make healthy choices about what they’re eating. So how do you not only provide healthy menu selections but also get kids real – to look forward to it?

WRIGHT: There needs to be a conversation with the children. They need to, whether it’s a parent or a teacher or the administration at that school, they need to be talking about the foods, they need to be explaining to them, you know, what these different foods have in them that makes them healthy. I am a parent and have a child in our school district, and we always have conversations. Every day, we talk about what did you eat at lunch today? Were you still hungry? If you were, you need to get more off the salad bar. And we have the whole milk discussion as well.

CAVANAUGH: Uh-huh.

WRIGHT: Did you have white milk or chocolate milk? And after two months he decided that white milk was healthier and that’s what he is choosing.

CAVANAUGH: Umm-hmm.

WRIGHT: But it’s a conversation between me and him. It takes five minutes every day as a parent to do that.

CAVANAUGH: Let’s take another call. Aaron is calling us from San Diego. Good morning, Aaron, and welcome to These Days.

AARON (Caller, San Diego): And good morning. Thank you for taking my call. My comment is in many countries in the world like kids go to school to learn academics, not to eat. I mean, I think that’s the responsibility of their parents. They need to eat at home. If they need food, they can bring it from their home. Thank you…

CAVANAUGH: Well, thank you.

AARON: …for taking my comment.

CAVANAUGH: Thank you, Aaron. And I think, you know, there are a lot of people who feel that way. Why is San Diego Unified so deeply involved in all of this nutritional – this nutritional program that you’ve got going? Why is that, Gary?

PETILL: Well, if I could just answer Aaron’s question about – a lot of parents don’t have the time in the morning to take the time, unfortunately, to sit down and have breakfast together as a family and that’s unfortunate. So that’s the need that we press on the Breakfast in the Classroom program and really getting breakfast out to children. And also we’ve noticed a tremendous amount of people that just honestly can’t afford it and some of the two meals that we offer a day may be the only meals those children get in a day and then we wonder what do they eat at night? What do they have on the weekend? So…

CAVANAUGH: And, also, isn’t it a fact, too, that, you know, we are – we keep hearing from the government that we’re suffering from an epidemic of obesity and is – do you feel that it’s one of the things that schools should do is complete their teaching mission to also teach kids how to eat correctly?

PETILL: Well, I think so because, you know, we get children that are in pre-kindergarten or kindergarten and they’re like sponges and they’re amazing, these children. They’ll learn so quickly. And that’s an opportunity to really teach children the right habits, not only in learning habits and reading habits and math habits but also nutritional habits.

WRIGHT: And you cannot teach a hungry child. So many of our children, you know, who – we have 60% of our students qualify for free and reduced lunches so there’s obviously a need for good nutrition for these students presented to them on a daily basis.

CAVANAUGH: Kim, I wanted to ask you about the special meal requests program that you have because you identify a number of, I mean, kids basically have called in, written in, told you that they need certain meals and they can’t have things and they must have other things and you prepare them. Tell us about that.

WRIGHT: I work within whatever foods we have in our inventory based on the child’s medical needs and we have – right now, we have over 250 different special diets for the past school year that they get what is prescribed to them by a physician at their school lunch.

CAVANAUGH: And how does a child or a parent communicate that?

WRIGHT: They can take the correct documentation, just a doctor’s note, signed doctor’s note indicating the child’s medical needs and take it to the school nurse and the school nurse will make sure it gets to me and then I will write the menus and make sure it gets out to the student.

CAVANAUGH: Okay. Let’s take another call. Stephanie is calling from San Diego. Good morning, Stephanie. Welcome to These Days.

STEPHANIE (Caller, San Diego): Yes, good morning. I have a side issue that I’d like to bring up which is the use of single-use or throwaways in the meals and as we’re trying to teach the children to eat in a more ecological, healthy and stable way, will there be any move towards returning to reusable plates and less packaging?

CAVANAUGH: Well, thank you for that, Stephanie. Any change in the way that these meals are served on their – on the plates that you use?

PETILL: Well, a lot of the plates that we use are paper and we are working with our team at the district on how do we recycle? And that’s important. We’d love to go trayless, totally trayless, and where we have trays, we’re looking at how do we recycle those trays and we have the company that we’re purchasing the product from now that is going to be taking them back to actually recycle the trays and turn them back. I guess we’ll see them again at some point but we are having a major effort on recycling. And Kim maybe…

WRIGHT: At the other end, you know, people want to see the regular plates. We do have issues with, you know, maintaining dishwashers and then the other thing is the chemicals that we would use in those dishwashers, so it’s a hard dichotomy to look at.

CAVANAUGH: There are a lot of considerations you have to take under consideration. I wonder, what kind of impact, though, Gary, have you seen from these changes already? I understand that there really has been a big increase in the number of kids, especially high school kids, who’ve decided to stay with school lunches.

PETILL: Well, what we’ve done is, Maureen, we’ve taken a new menu that the students actually helped us to come up with. They came up with the theme of the Sandy Coast Café in middle and high schools right now. What we’ve done is we went out and purchased carts with the signage on there from the Walk-In Bowl, which is our Asian line. The Baja Beach is our Mexican line. We have the Rigatonis, which is our Italian line. And we took those carts with those themes on them and we’ve rolled them out to where the students, like I say, hang out…

CAVANAUGH: Umm-hmm.

PETILL: …with their friends. We’ve brought the food to them. There’s always been a stigma about going to a cafeteria and eating, and that’s where most of our salad bars are because it has the proper sanitation and the cover that we need. But we’ve rolled out the food, the hot entrees, the Magic Bowl that you saw today, the new chili dish, vegetarian chili that we’re going to do, and they’re brought out to the students. So that helps a lot.

CAVANAUGH: I wonder, what are your goals for this school year, Gary and Kim?

PETILL: Okay, I guess I’m first.

CAVANAUGH: Well, actually I just looked up and I see that we have so little time, so it’s only going to be you, Gary, and if you could keep it really short.

PETILL: Well, you know, we’re on the food revolution ourselves and our march is to continue to have healthier food options, increasing our participation that way. We’re going to refresh and reenergize all of our programs, take another look at what we do to do them better, and new innovative production methods that we’ll be able to do is produce our own foods, make our own burritos across the district, make our own pizza. And that’s really a big deal because we don’t want to buy frozen pizza that…

CAVANAUGH: Right.

PETILL: …comes from Boston, Massachusetts that’s not eco-friendly and we’d give a fresher product.

CAVANAUGH: I have to tell you, I am so sorry that I took this to the limit but I was really engaged in the conversation. Thanks so much, Gary Petill and Kim Wright, for coming in and talking with us.

PETILL: Thank you so much.

WRIGHT: Thank you.

PETILL: Thank you.

CAVANAUGH: And if you’d like to comment, it’s KPBS.org/thesedays. Stay with us for hour two on KPBS.

Comments

Avatar for user 'vboss'

vboss | August 16, 2010 at 9:53 a.m. ― 3 years, 11 months ago

If a child has a choice between eating an apple or playing with friends, they will skip the food. I've heard there was a school that had the kids play first, then eat and go back to class. They had much less food waste, and kids were calmer in class.

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Avatar for user 'cstrahl'

cstrahl | August 16, 2010 at 10:15 a.m. ― 3 years, 11 months ago

Kudos to your efforts. Last year I called Mr. Petill's office but received no response: I wanted to comment on the profound waste in the lunch program, particularly the milk, which is REQUIRED in all the federal lunch program meals: my son won't drink it (likes 2%, not 1%) and was forced to simply throw away milk everyday (I also wrote my congresswoman regarding this problem). We have switched to PB&J from home to keep from encouraging the institutionalized waste and the disrespect for food this condones. Any suggestions? I'm sure the wasted money could be put to healthier choices for kids!

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