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

By Madeline Holler |

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.

Also related:

Healthy School Lunches are the Law

Getting Kids to Eat Lunch: Sometimes It’s Not the Food

Improve the Lunch Experience

Photo: wlscience via flickr

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About Madeline Holler


Madeline Holler

Madeline Holler is a writer, journalist, and blogger. She has written for Babble since the site launched in 2006. Her writing has appeared in various other publications both online and in print, including Salon and True/Slant (now Forbes). A native of the Midwest, Madeline lives, writes, and parents in Southern California, where she's raising two daughters and a son. Read bio and latest posts → Read Madeline's latest posts →

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

  1. Shandeigh says:

    I think they are going too far…. no kid is gonna eat that stuff. They can make the food healthier without making it trendy crap that most adults won’t each much less an 8 year old.

  2. goddess says:

    My kids eat tortellini with spinach. And roasted squash, yams, etc. And spinach salads with grilled chicken and berries. None of us eat sushi, but if you baked up some tilapia or salmon they’d scarf it down! And they drink fat-free milk and detest whole and 2% at school. depends on what they are fed and become accustomed to.

    Bravo California- hope it spreads

  3. Madeline Holler says:

    Me, too, Goddess! Again, not all kids will like it at first. Some won’t ever. But I hope they give the kids a chance to develop a taste for it. I think it’s great a school district — one that banned soda and junk food for sale! — is trying to have a consistent food message.

  4. Meredith in Texas says:

    Children will eat and be accustomed to what they are exposed to. No child ever starved to death by missing a lunch, but let them get hungry enough and they will pick around on the plate, trying a few bites of a few things. Gradually, they will accept the change and be better off as a result. The attitude of the first commenter is a perfect example of WHY the US has become as obese as we have. Bravo for LAUSD…wish we could get some of the Texas school districts to follow suit!

  5. michelle says:

    “Trendy crap that most adults won’t eat”? Maybe the adults you see in the drive thru line, but the adults I know (and the kids, including mine) would love these new school lunches. I’m all for kids being raised to eat whatever the adults are eating, and the more adventurous everyone’s palate, the better. Some kids only like chocolate milk and “chicken” nuggets because that’s what certain adults give them.

  6. goddess says:

    Yes and yes Michelle! I was thinking that tortellini sounded pretty tasty!

  7. Shandeigh says:

    You should’ve be feeding your kids fat-free milk anyway. Children need good fats in their diet. The problem with these programs is they are going from one extreme to the other. In 10 years there’s going to be a problem with underweight kids. I’m teaching my son a realistic approach to food. He would rather have fresh fruit than cookies… but I would never consider feeding him sushi. That’s idiotic.

  8. Madeline Holler says:

    Shandeigh, you clearly don’t live in California. Sushi’s as prevalent here as, what, — mac and cheese? Chips and salsa? Air? — in other places.

  9. Linda,T.O.O. says:

    I think it’s great that they’re trying to make some real changes. They are making *changes* in our district, but as far as I can tell, it’s all lip service and nothing more. Every single lunch the school cafeteria serves is something I don’t want my kids eating on a daily basis (hamburgers, chicken nuggets, popcorn shrimp, nachos !!!, pizza) with a side of some sort of fried potatoes. The kids are limited to two items from the “fruit and veggies bar” but it’s only ever canned fruit and brown iceberg lettuce. Ugh. I pack 3 munches every day instead. I’d be sooooooo happy with a menu of spinich tortellini and california rolls… and my kids would be too.

  10. Linda,T.O.O. says:

    Are there really kids who wouldn’t eat a california roll? Rice, crab, cucumber, and avocado… How on earth would this even be controversial, let alone “idiotic” ???

  11. michelle says:

    I know, Linda! Not seeing what’s idiotic about sushi, unless you live under a rock.

  12. Shandra says:

    My son’s been in a multicultural daycare since he was 2, plus we eat generally whole food type stuff at home. His school lunches have always included things like curried lentils, poached fish with rice, jerk chicken with rice and peas, etc. I don’t think they’ve had sushi per se, but lots of other things. He loves them and having other kids around eating them is really motivating.
    Lest it sound like he lives in a desert, he has also had some Kraft Dinner, nuggets, etc., usually at other people’s homes or in restaurants. But they are not the only things he’ll eat by any means – he actually doesn’t love the nuggets, just puts up with them.
    Don’t underestimate your kids before they have a good chance, over the long haul, to try other foods. But remember that particularly after age 5, food is social as well – you have to do your part by eating those foods WITH them.

  13. Peter Leighton says:

    There is a solution to the “Chocolate Milk Dilemma”. All-natural MojoMilk ( is a powdered mix that contains 60% fewer calories than leading brands and also delivers 10x more active probiotics than yogurt. Comes in stick packs so kids can add it to plain milk at school. Delicious AND healthy!

  14. mbaker says:

    My 4 year old son would love that menu. I feed him a variety of normal, healthy options including sushi which he loves Shandeigh and to him that’s the normal way you eat the same way some kids think it’s normal to eat Kraft Mac n Cheese because that’s how they were raised. He doesn’t feel deprived because he sometimes gets fast food nuggets and fruit cup from Chick Fil A and occasionally gets dessert or chocolate as well. We talk about around the dinner table all the great things the veggies and other healthy foods are doing for our bodies and what foods are sometimes foods and what foods are all the time foods. He recently got the healthiest eater award at preschool and he was so proud of it.

  15. Amanda says:

    I like this idea. The whole concept of “kid foods” like nuggest, corn dogs, mac & cheese, a fairly recent phenomenon anyway. I’m pretty sure some of us and surely, most of our parents, just ate what the adults ate.

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