Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Master chef reinvents LAUSD school lunchroom

this story missed 4LAKids last December, but with the district initiative to improve food service by increasing facilities capacity by the beginning of the next school year (July or September '08) at 64 of the 138 LAUSD secondary schools approved by the board of ed tuesday — and the reaffirmation of the 1990 board directive that every child shall have twenty minutes from the time he or she is served to eat lunch this seems like the right time. - smf

Lunch options at Los Angeles Unified School District

1 of 7: LAUSD board member Marlene Canter led the way to ban soda and junk food in school vending machines. Now she's looking for colorful produce-filled meals that will still appeal to kids.

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LOS ANGELES (KABC) -Friday, December 07, 2007- Cafeteria lunch has been on the receiving end of many jokes throughout school history, but Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) wants to put a stop to the snickers. They've hired a master chef to whip up a new menu that brings innovative colorful cuisine to students.

Mac n' cheese is on the menu at Fairfax High in L.A., but there's healthy changes ahead.

"We now have standards for sugar, for fat," explains LAUSD board member Marlene Canter. "We have a certain number of grains, whole wheat grains, you have to have."

And while Canter is pleased with new recipes, she wants more.

"I feel like we're on the move. We're going into the right direction," said Canter. "We have to keep on looking at it and focusing on it."

Canter led the way to ban soda and junk food in school vending machines. Now she's looking for colorful produce-filled meals that will still appeal to kids.

But if healthy doesn't look or taste good, the kids won't bite. So L.A. Unified hired an Oscar chef to whip up some award-winning meals.

"What I'm going to be working on is presentation. I'm going to work on flavor profiles, textures, smells, taste," said executive chef Mark Baida. "We're the largest international school base. Why can't we start with international food?"

Well versed in finicky eaters, Chef Baida not only created meals for Oscar night and five-star restaurants, he's also fed USC students. His strategic vision for SoCal schools is coming to reality.

"And that's when I'll be able to introduce all my new findings of cuisine, get interaction with the students, student focus groups, bring them into my kitchen, start cooking together," said Chef Baida.

With well over 500,000 meals a day, LAUSD is the second largest school lunch program in America. Making changes is tough, but not impossible.

"Currently, a pizza is either pepporoni or cheese -- and that's vegetarian. We're going to make some grilled chicken enchiladas, tomatillo with chipotle, roasted vegetables -- make it colorful," said Chef Baida. "When you walk in, you go, 'Wow.'"

There are pizzas with roasted veggies, along with sophisticated salads. It seems to be paying off.

"A lot of people are eating salads, and I think a lot of people are caring about their weight and stuff," said student Diego Montio, who likes the school food.

Fries are baked and burgers are a blend of soy and meat to lower saturated fat. Meals must have no more than 400 calories and offer four grams of fiber per 100 calories -- that's certainly helpful to Baida's motto.

"Bring in the new, roll out the old," said Chef Baida.

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