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Chocolate Milk Out, Sushi In: School Lunch Gets an L.A.-Style Makeover

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school lunch, chocolate milk
Last meal of its kind. In the fall, it’s sushi and squash.

The Los Angeles Unified School District’s lunch menu is getting a Southern California kind of makeover. The school board of the nation’s second largest district voted this week to skinny up its menu and the drink offered to more than 650,000 school-aged kids everyday during the school year.

In a 5-2 vote, the board approved a new milk contract, one that now excludes chocolate and strawberry milk. The district cafeterias will offer unflavored low-fat and skim varieties. Lactaid and soy milks will also be offered.

But that’s not even the biggest change.

Now for the food: no more chicken (or “chicken” nuggets), corn dogs or other breaded items. This fall, students will be served stuff like spinach tortellini in butternut squash sauce and California sushi rolls for school lunch. They’ll also try out more “ethnic” foods and have more vegetarian options, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Not everyone agrees with the changes. One board member who voted against the new milk contract pointed out there’s more sugar in the juice served with school breakfasts than there is in a carton of chocolate milk. A great point. Are the breakfasts getting overhauled eventually, too?

The same board member said he thought the district was letting itself get pushed around by celebrity chef Jamie Oliver, whose TV show Food Revolution spent much of its second season trying to get the district — and viewers around the country — to ban sugared up flavored milks from school lunches [PDF].

I’ve long been a critic of school lunches. Not only are the offerings often unhealthy, but the atmosphere in the lunchroom and the amount of time kids are given to eat undermine efforts to get kids to change the way they think about food. It’s not impossible to make healthy food kids will eat.

Of course, taking away greasy and breaded, and super sweet fare will take some getting used to. I’m sure critics will point to the amount of food in the trash in the first months of the new lunch menus. But I hope this will at least be given a chance. Kids need time and encouragement and a good reason for this kind of change. So teachers, principals and the superintendent himself should sit down and enjoy what can be cooked up for less than a $1 a plate. Let’s hope along with more nutrients and stuff, they’ll also be taught why the powers that be nixed the nugget.

It wasn’t to make some guy on TV happy.

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