Tuesday, August 28, 2012

NEWS RELEASE -- SD Unified Starts School Year as Statewide Leaders in Developing Healthier School Meals

NEWS RELEASE from the San Diego Unified School District, August 28, 2012


SAN DIEGO -- California schools will be implementing new healthier school meal standards this school year, and will be looking to creative ways to serve students fresh and tasty food.

One approach has come from the San Diego Unified School District. After debuting the food-court inspired SanDi Coast Café at middle and high schools in 2009, California's second-largest district has altered recipes and will be ensuring that students take the correct amounts of fruit, vegetables, grains and other staples required by the federal Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act. Similar changes will greet elementary students at their Kids' Choice Café.

"The new guidelines are an opportunity to expand our existing menu of healthy offerings," said Gary Petill, San Diego Unified's Food Services Director. "Our team is focused on making sure we provide the best quality lunches, breakfasts and snacks for all of our students."

New options for the 2012-13 school year include Asian chicken salad and Asian tofu salad; vegetarian pizza with jalapenos, corn, olives and green peppers; vegetarian chili in a bread bowl; and corn and black bean salads. The popular Chicken Diego Wrap, a grilled chicken and vegetable wrap, is back on the menu.

Although San Diego Unified's menu has been lauded for its variety and healthy choices, the district's goal is to not only ensure its students are served today, but that they grow up making healthy choices. San Diego Unified serves more than 25 million meals a year.

"Today's high school seniors have had salad bars in their cafeteria since they were in second grade," he said. "We now have a whole generation of students who embrace healthy food and know how to make good choices."

The effort at high schools also includes more service locations to shorten lines and food court-style kiosks with different entrees at each station to reduce the "institutional" look to school food.

The district's food services continued its evolution in 2010 when the Farm to School program debuted. Part of a County of San Diego $16 million grant funded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, Farm to School brings locally grown fruits and vegetables to students, along with farm tours and other activities that help kids learn where their lunch came from.

The challenge that districts face has brought The California Endowment to San Diego Unified, highlighting a school lunch program that has taken up the challenge of fighting childhood obesity.

"San Diego Unified has long been a leader in providing innovative and nutritious meal options to students," said Judy Larsen, Program Manager for The California Endowment. "At The California Endowment, we applaud their role as pioneers in ensuring that health happens in schools."

It's a challenge that all districts in the nation are facing, thanks to the federal Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act, which was signed into law in December, 2010. The new guidelines, which were developed by nutrition experts at the Institute of Medicine, must be followed by all schools participating in the National School Lunch Program and School Breakfast Program. The new standards include:

-- Increased produce options, ensuring that students are receive both fruits and vegetables every day of the week.
-- A ban on unhealthy trans fats.
-- Portion size guidelines and calorie limits based on the age of children served.
-- Increased emphasis on whole grain products.
-- Limits on the types of milk served, with an emphasis on low-fat (1%) and non-fat varieties.
-- Reductions in sodium levels to be phased in over several years.

According to a recent study by the California Center for Public Health Advocacy, 38 percent of children in California are obese or overweight. Studies show that childhood obesity increases risk for heart disease, high blood pressure and a host of other serious chronic diseases. With California schools serving 810 million meals a year, and many students receiving roughly 40 percent of their daily nutrition from school meals, the new school meal guidelines have the potential to play a significant role in improving the health of California's kids.

In addition to lifelong health benefits, studies show that there is a strong link between good nutrition and academic performance.

"There's a good reason teachers advise students to eat a healthy breakfast before a big test. It gives kids energy and helps them focus," said Larsen. "If all kids ate healthy meals every day, it would make a real difference in classrooms across California."

The California Endowment knows that health happens in schools, and as part of the statewide "Health Happens in Schools" campaign, is raising awareness about the new meal standards and highlighting creative implementation in districts across the state. As part of the campaign, the Endowment is running radio and online advertisements in San Diego and other select markets throughout California promoting the new meal standards.

The advertisements also encourage parents to learn if their children qualify for free and reduced price school meals. Families with incomes up to 185 percent of the federal poverty level may qualify (approximately $42,000 for a family of four). An estimated 233,000 San Diego County students qualify for free or reduced price lunches, but many are not participating in the program. Increasing participation is a critical goal because school meal programs provide food to lower-income students who face food insecurity or lack access to adequate nutrition. San Diego Unified School District's enrollment application is available online at: https://www.applyforlunch.com/Application. Parents can also contact their child's school to see if they qualify.

# # #

CONTACT: Jack Brandais • Communications Department • San Diego Unified School District • (619) 725-5570 (desk) • (619) 607-0477 (cell)

You are a subscriber to the news release mailing list for the San Diego Unified School District. To unsubscribe, send a message to "media@lists-sandi-net" with the word "unsubscribe" in the body of the message. For an archive of these releases, go to http://sdusd-news.blogspot.com/