• Joey Lai

Student Meals and Nutrition

At the beginning of the year when both of my sons were attending Carrillo Elementary, we would have one of our sons love school meals, and the other one did not like it (putting that politely). I was always curious why there was such a difference between the boys in their affection for school meals since I knew first hand their likes and dislikes in regards to food, and they had similar taste buds.

I decided to take it upon myself to start researching the food being served, the nutritional value, how it was being served, the variety, and how was CNS communicating to families about the food. I was able to solicit feedback from parents on their student's experience with the meals as well as what they would like to see on the menu to help the dietary needs of their students. Myself along with another Carrillo parent took it upon ourselves to engage CNS about the feedback we received along with our own observations of the meals.

As we engaged CNS, I can tell you the past director of CNS Dena England and site manager Willy Bustillos were extremely responsive and willing to work with myself and the other parent on our parents' concerns about the meal quality. We were able to have a meeting with CNS at the District office, follow up meetings at Carrillo, and tours of the facility to see how food was being prepped.

Through our meetings we learned about the why, what, and how of our meal service for the school. It was eye opening how many guidelines CNS has to work through to provide meal service for our students (ingredients, calories, budget per meal, daily requirements to name a few). What I can tell you from our meetings was it provided us so much information to be able to come back to our families and help explain why certain things are being done, and where CNS agreed they had opportunities to improve with service.

So what was the result? Working collaboratively with CNS and the fellow parent we were able to improve food prep routines (no more frozen fruit, etc...), communicate information about the food, and introduce new healthier food items to the menu to meet a diverse dietary needs of our families. Examples of food that was introduced were healthier grains instead of white rice, a fresh 3 bean salad for taco themed day versus meat, and healthier bowl options (think Chipotle bowls with fresh ingredients). In addition to the improvements to the food, we also worked on starting a farmer's market in collaboration with our PTO so we could introduce new fruits and vegetables to our students as well as establish healthy eating habits.

Why did I do all of this? I am firm believer that child nutrition in schools sets the stage for student eating habits at home and in the future. If our students are consistently eating the same food, with the same ingredients, then they form habits that may not be healthy or productive to healthy growth. Nutrition at breakfast and lunch is also the fuel students need to perform at peak levels while in class. If they are hungry and not getting proper nutrition, students run out of "gas" during the day, which impacts the learning experience. I would welcome the opportunity to do the same thing for schools across the District if elected to the board. I would like to solicit other parents who have questions and concerns about their site's food and have them meet so they can coordinate a similar group to what we did at Carrillo Elementary.

My biggest takeaway from working with CNS, was the amount of guidelines they have to work through, and how transparent information and communication can help inform and ease families minds about their student's meals. The more we know!

If you have questions about menus or food ingredients I encourage you to download the YumYummi Digital School Menu App in your app store, or visit the CNS website at . There is a menu on the left hand side of the site that will have all the ingredients of the foods served.

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