Local News

Oct 11, 2010 9:27 PM by Ariel Wesler

Local school district packing healthy lunches

The Santa Maria Bonita School District is leading the way toward making school lunches healthier.

Eighty-eight percent of the kids in the district qualify for the federal lunch program, one of the highest rates on the Central Coast. The rate is so high that the government allows the entire district to participate.

Funding for the healthy changes came from the Orfalea Foundation in Santa Barbara.

The Santa Maria Bonita School District serves more than 14,000 meals each day and everyone has a favorite.

With the entire district on the federal lunch program, food service managers have been taking a fresh approach to student nutrition. Last year, they began making more meals from scratch and using local produce.

"Sugar snap peas from a local farmer in Lompoc to persimmons right here. Kiwi up in Nipomo," said Food Service Director Liz Powell.

"Sometimes, I don't like the healthy and I want like, more junk food," said 5th Grader JuJesenia Evangelista.

So, the lunch ladies cook up a little magic with the veggies and do what parents have been doing for years. . .hide them.

"We sautee vegetables before we add the tomato sauces and the spices and they don't know there's carrots and celery and zucchini in their items," Powell said.

It's not what you'd expect from typical cafeteria cuisine-- fruits and vegetables at a salad bar and a menu that's open for suggestions from the kids.

"What they told us is that they wanted like a sweeter, sauce on the chicken, so we made an asian chicken salad," Powell said.

Healthier choices in the lunchroom can affect performance in the classroom.

"It's gonna help us pay more attention and be more active," said 5th Grader Matthew Prendez-Vasquez

For many children, it's their most nutritious meal of the day.

The Healthy School Lunch bill would add another five billion dollars to the federal lunch program. It's already passed the senate, but has stalled in the house. Right now, the proposal dips into food stamp money to pay for the new legislation, a solution some lawmakers are calling unacceptable.

The National School Lunch Program serves more than 31 million students every school day at more than 100,000 schools across the country.

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