By Barbara Jones, Staff Writer- LA Daily News http://bit.ly/15frkiz
7/30/2013 09:44:07 PM PDT :: Los Angeles Unified plans to introduce more kid-friendly options, such as taco salad and chicken-and-waffles, to its healthful lunch menu this fall, while eliminating mess-making cereal from the Breakfast in the Classroom program, district officials say.
<<Item on the left is a new lunch item call Tex-Mex Corn Bread and Black Bean Mountain.
After introducing an exotic menu in 2011, then overhauling it last year because students hated the unfamiliar food, Food Services chief David Binkle said this year's menu will feature a slate of standards -- such as enchiladas, lasagna and beef sliders -- along with a handful of new offerings.
"There's nothing that the kids said, out and out, 'Get rid of that,' " Binkle said. "We're trying to keep the menu cycle the same and interject a few new things here and there, based on student feedback. This emphasizes the importance of continuing to work with students."
In fact, a couple of the new selections were actually created by students who won district-run culinary contests held last year.
Guadalupe Gonzalez, who will be a sophomore at Panorama High School, concocted a breakfast fruit puff, made of a tart shell, fresh fruit and fruit syrup. It's slated to be served on Aug. 15, then once a month throughout the school year.
Every three weeks, the lunch menu will include a meal created by West Adams High School students Esther Segura and Jose Landaverde -- a Tex-Mex cornbread and black bean "mountain," accompanied by a cucumber and tomato salad and a warm pear and raisin compote.
Binkle said students at Bell High School -- the only campus still on a year-round calendar -- also have been sampling new menu items and have given the go-ahead to a taco salad with crumbled beef and chicken-and-waffles which, despite the sound of it meets federal nutritional guidelines for calories, fat, sodium and sugar.
"I'm really excited about the savory waffle," said Binkle, a master chef who joined the district in 2007. "It's a potato and chives, yeast-raised waffle with no sugar added. Students tried it this summer, and I believe that it will be a successful product."
Breakfast Fruit Puff >>
Los Angeles Unified also will continue its planned expansion of its Breakfast in the Classroom program so that middle-school students, as well as elementary youngsters, will be offered a pre-packaged entree, juice and milk at the start of the school day.
Binkle said the district has dropped cereal from the breakfast menu in response to teacher complaints that dropped flakes and crumbs created a mess underfoot and drew rodents and insects.
Warren Fletcher, president of United Teachers Los Angeles, said the union remains concerned about the cleanliness and the loss of instructional time taken up by the breakfast program.
"We're still waiting for the district to actually engage in the discussion of what is and isn't working," he said. "That hasn't happened."
But officials at the LA Fund for Public Education, which is working with the district on the Breakfast in the Classroom project, said it is trying to strengthen the instructional component of the program as it grows to more than 600 campuses.
The nonprofit has launched a "School Fuel" campaign, which includes fun facts about nutrition printed on the cardboard serving trays that reinforce the district's healthful eating message. It also plans to expand its outreach effort at LAUSD's parent centers so good eating habits are reinforced at home.
"We want to use the breakfast program as a platform to help educate students about nutrition," said Dan Chang, executive director of the LA Fund. "It's a very holistic approach. We want teachers to use the first 15 minutes in the morning to drive the education about nutrition, and the trays and milk cartons also carry that message."
Of course, it doesn't matter how healthful the meals are if the students don't eat them, but Binkle said the district's track record is improving.
Last year, it budgeted for 109 million meals, but actually sold 114 million. Youngsters still discarded a lot of the food -- an estimated 7.4 percent, or more than 8 million meals -- but that's better than the 8.9 percent waste the previous year.
Equally important, he said, is that milk consumption is nearing levels last seen in 2011, when the district banned chocolate and strawberry milk.
"Our function is to provide nutrients for education," he said. "In my mind the district is supporting this. The focus of nutrition is as a key component and a key role in providing children the ability to be able to learn."