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LBUSD Aims for Healthy Eating Habits

At its most recent meeting, the Laguna Beach Unified School District (LBUSD) Board of Education reviewed and adopted Resolution 19-12: Recognition and Support of National Nutrition Month. School officials said the resolution recognizes the importance of the role that school nutrition services play in the health and well-being of all students and reaffirms the district’s commitment to supporting all efforts to that end.

: A vegetarian greek salad offered at LBUSD schools. Photo courtesy of LBUSD

It has been nearly a decade since passage of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, an Obama administration initiative that prompted big changes in school lunches. Starting in 2012, the law required schools to limit sodium and fat in meals, increase fruits and vegetables, and shift to serving more whole grains and lean proteins. Calorie minimums and maximums were set by grade level. One goal of the law was to help reduce America’s childhood obesity epidemic and reduce health risks for America’s children by helping schools across the country produce balanced meals so children had access to healthy foods during the school day.

In the years since, the law has challenged school nutrition service directors with a complex juggling act of federal regulations, cultural sensitivities, medical issues including allergies, lactose intolerance, and childhood diseases that require a special diet. This requires a balance between encouraging students to try something new and serving appealing, familiar meals that keep them coming back to the lunch line.

In response, district officials said they’ve made substantial improvements to the quality and sustainability efforts within their nutritional services program to encourage health-conscious and environmentally friendly lifestyle habits. LBUSD officials said it’s known, from a vast body of research, that improved nutrition leads to increased focus and attention, improved test scores, and better classroom behavior.

To help students develop lifelong healthy eating habits, school menus are designed to give students healthy choices, primarily offering only fresh, scratch-made meals. Across the district, sampling taste tests and student surveys inform the development of new menu items throughout the year. Some of the newest scratch meal offerings are chicken cacciatore, chili in a cornbread bowl, bean tostadas and minestrone soup. At each school site, salad bars are available with organic, locally sourced produce to enhance student meals and offer students the option to make their own selections. At times, the district even incorporates fresh produce from school gardens into its meals. Currently, school nutrition services are exploring new vegetarian and vegan options. Studies show that eating a diet rich in plant-based foods can lower children’s long-term risk for health problems like heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and obesity.

Students enjoy their lunches together. Photo courtesy of LBUSD

LBUSD has also piloted a new breakfast program at the elementary schools. The district started serving breakfast at Top of the World in September and at El Morro Elementary in November. Officials said participation has been impressive at both sites and has increased outreach to our students to provide healthy options for two meals each day.

School sites model environmentally conscious decisions, serving all meals on biodegradable plates, eliminating the use of plastic straws, and using biodegradable utensils at all sites. Presently nutrition services use a complete line of environmentally friendly products, from molded fiber lunch trays to compostable cutlery. Additionally, nutrition services can manage waste responsibility from food composting to recycling with tools and services from Waste Management.

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