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Nutritious Meals in L.A. School Cafeterias

September 15, 1996

In response to "A Matter to Chew On," editorial, Sept. 2:

The Los Angeles Unified School District has been a leader in providing nutritious meals that not only meet but exceed the USDA and state guidelines. We meet the new dietary guidelines for Americans (as required by the USDA) as well as nutrition requirements of the American Heart Assn. In recent years, our program has been recognized as one of the state's top 10 lunch programs. In 1994-95, the USDA performed an audit of LAUSD's food service program and rated it as exceptional, with very favorable comments on our nutrition practices.

The assumption that only vegetarian meals are healthy is not shared by the American Dietetic Assn. or most nutrition organizations. Vegetarian meals, including tofu and chickpeas, may not necessarily be low-fat meals. LAUSD nutrition efforts have focused on increasing complex carbohydrates, i.e., fruits, vegetables and grains, not on increasing protein. Protein is already offered in adequate amounts.

Menus are planned centrally and individual schools may alter them to meet local student preferences. Cafeteria managers may select alternate vegetarian menus that range from bean and cheese burritos, fresh fruit and 1% milk to cottage cheese and fruit salad with a low-fat blueberry muffin and milk. Because we have "offer versus serve," youngsters can always select non-meat side dishes. Popular recipes have been altered to lower the fat content. Ground turkey is used in place of beef in tacos, spaghetti and chili. Hot dogs are now "turkey dogs" and we have switched from frying to roasting chicken.

We are very fortunate here in Los Angeles to be able to purchase fresh fruits and vegetables from the L.A. produce market on a daily basis. While we support the educational value of growing organic produce at school gardens, diverting it to our cafeterias is neither practical nor does it offer a nutrition advantage. The district serves a selection of five salad plates at all secondary schools and salad plates are options at middle and elementary schools. This prepared plate procedure ensures adequate portions and allows time for an unhurried lunch.


Branch Director

Food Services, LAUSD

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