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San Diego Unified School District Serving Up Healthy Lunches

Healthy School Lunches in San Diego
San Diego Unified School District Serving Up Healthy Lunches
GUESTS:Gary Petill, Director of Food and Nutritional Services, San Diego Unified School DistrictVanessa Zajfen, specialist, Farm to School program, SDUSD

SDUSD Fast Facts

-San Diego Unified School District is the second larges district in California

-61 percent of students in SDUSD qualify for free or reduced-priced meals

Each day, the San Diego Unified School District prepares and serves:

-50,000 breakfasts

-78,000 lunches

-12,200 snacks

-8,000 suppers

source: SDUSD

In accordance with federal regulations geared toward getting children and adolescents healthier, more nutritional meals are making their way into San Diego Unified schools. And school cafeteria menus are getting revamped across San Diego County.

The new changes include serving more fruits, vegetables and whole grains, as well as serving foods that have zero trans fat and less salt.


Gary Petill, director of Food and Nutritional Services at San Diego Unified School District, said this year's menu includes an Asian Chicken Salad and a Caesar Salad. He added the salad bars will include many local fruits and vegetables.

"With the new regulations, all children have to take a certain amount of fruits and vegetables at each meal," he said.

Students at Pacific Beach Middle School, who tried the new meals gave them high marks. Jason Peugh is a senior at Point Loma High School.

"I like the new menu I think it tastes really good," he said. "We just taste-tested some of it and just any excuse to have people eating healthier isn’t really a bad thing; there’s nothing but positives, really."

Emery Reyna is an eighth grader at Pacific Beach Middle School.


"I think it’s a great beginning for a lot of students, to be able to start the new year right and healthy," she said.

The addition of the new food items are a result of the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act. Signed into law by President Obama in 2010 and in line with First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move initiative, the act authorizes federal funding and policies for more nutritional school meals.

San Diego Unified Superintendent Bill Kowba said providing nutritional meals at school can lead to healthier students both physically and academically.

"Kids come ready to learn, to understand, if they’re physically ready and mentally ready," Kowba said. "And that means they come with well-balanced nutritional meals."

Petill said you're never too young to learn healthy eating habits.

"Children really need to realize and learn their lifelong habits now at a very young age in order for them to be healthy adults," Petill said.

Vanessa Zajfen, a specialist with SDUSD's Farm to School program, said she works to connect students with local organic family farmers "so we can source local and organic food to serve in our school meal program," she said.

For example, a chili bowl served to elementary school students includes local bread and beans from a certified supply chain.

"All people who have worked on that supply chain are treated fairly and paid a fair wage," she said.

To get kids to actually eat this food, the school district is trying new approaches like the "dipper bar," Zajfen said. That bar allows students to dip vegetables in a variety of spreads, giving them a chance to play with their food.

She added that giving the food an interesting story and allowing students to meet the farmers who grow the food encourages them to eat the food as well.

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, about 12.5 million children and adolescents in the United States are obese.

Corrected: December 8, 2023 at 10:15 PM PST
Claire Trageser contributed to this report.