OUSD proposes new plan to expand healthy meals program, serve more fresh food

Students line up for a meal at Fremont High School in Oakland. Photo by Roberto Daza.

Students line up for a meal at Fremont High School in Oakland. Photo by Roberto Daza.

The Oakland Unified School District has proposed a new plan that will expand its healthy meals program by updating meal service facilities on campuses throughout the district, allowing schools to increase the number of campuses that can serve freshly prepared food.

As part of a program called Rethinking School Lunch in Oakland, OUSD Nutrition Services Director Jennifer LeBarre and Zenobia Barlow, executive director of the Center for Ecoliteracy, created an outline of options to improve district-wide food service based on a recent assessment of the current meal program. As part of the district’s existing healthy meal program, which LeBarre began working on in 2006, the menus have already been revamped to eliminate fried foods and increase the amount of fruits and vegetables that are served by the schools. Now the goal is to increase the amount of freshly prepared food that is available to the students.

The biggest change would be to offer meals that are prepared in a kitchen at school instead of a foods that come into the school wrapped in plastic. “Moving forward, instead of getting an individually-wrapped piece of pizza, we would be making pizzas at the school site,” LeBarre said.  She also stated she would like to branch out and buy produce from local vendors.

The Rethinking School Lunch in Oakland proposal is part of the district’s proposed five-year Facilities Master Plan, which will include physical renovations to campuses as well as additional services for students. If approved by the school board, the district will move to have a measure to fund the plan placed on the ballot for the November election.

At the start of the 2010-2011 academic year, the Center for Ecoliteracy commissioned a study of the current condition of food service in OUSD schools. LeBarre said that while there have been significant improvements to the meal plan itself, which is provided to students through the National School Lunch, Breakfast and Snacks Program, the center’s study revealed that many district schools have outdated equipment, no kitchen facilities and food service workers at several locations primarily serve pre-made meals.

The study suggested several options that will allow for the continued growth of the healthy meal program, such as creating larger community spaces for meal preparation and the addition of a commissary for the entire district.. The space would be used to prepare meals, would include an area to grow produce, and would also serve as a teaching tool for students, LeBarre said. The plan also recommends the replacement old kitchen equipment.

Barlow said that instead of considering a smaller pilot program, the Center for Ecoliteracy decided to work on a program that would benefit the entire school district. The Oakland Unified School District has demonstrated readiness for whole system changes, Barlow said.  “In Oakland there is an awareness that the quality of nutrition that is offered to children is really an integral dimension of change to closing the achievement gap,” Barlow said. “Children’s emotional, social and physical wellbeing is really critical to their academic achievement.”

“We are trying to build America’s first full-service community school district where every public school in Oakland provides not only high quality instruction and rigorous academics but also a full range of wrap-around services that promote high achievement,” said Oakland Unified School District spokesperson Troy Flint. Wrap-around services include access to health care, mental health care, dental and eye care, language acquisition courses, nutrition and recreational services. “We want all these services to be available on site through a constellation of partners,” Flint said.

The school district would be the agency with primary responsibility for overseeing the services proposed in the Facilities Master Plan, but OUSD would work in partnership with organizations like The Atlantic Philanthropies—which has already provided a grant for health care services at several schools—Kaiser Permanente Foundation and the Alameda County Health Department, Flint said.

“We expect a lot of our kids and if we want them to achieve at high levels we need to ensure that the conditions exist that can promote achievement,” Flint said.  “A student who is not healthy or is not well-fed is most likely going to be inattentive and a less effective student. One way to address this social need and make progress toward our academic goals is to make sure every child is well fed and not just that they are full but also that they are fed with nutritious offerings.”

Recently, The California Endowment recognized LeBarre for her work at the district on healthy meal plans. A few of the changes she has made to the program—which must serve approximately 37,000 meals a day—include “meatless Mondays,” the increased use of low-fat milk products and a ban on sodas.

“We are going to continue finding new and healthier products and developing philosophies for our students,” LeBarre said. “Ultimately we hope that those students and families that aren’t participating with us will start to do so.”

 

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