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L.A.'s 'Healthy' Lunches Flop, Burgers And Pizza Make Comeback

Posted On: 12/28/2011

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food service, vending machine foods, healthy foods, Los Angeles Unified School District, healthy vending, L.A. Unified School District lunch program, school lunch trends

LOS ANGELES -- The Los Angeles Unified School District, one of the largest districts in the nation, has seen thousands less students participating in its school lunch program since it revamped its menu with healthier fare this fall.

The district removed chocolate and strawberry milk, chicken nuggets, corndogs, nachos and other food high in fat, sugar and sodium from its menu and added healthful alternatives like black bean burgers, tostada salad and vegetarian curries.

Since the change, students have reportedly been throwing away uneaten meals and bringing their own food to school. Hungry students have complained about headaches, stomach pains and even anemia, according to an article in the Los Angeles Times. The new menu has also spawned an underground ring of "junk food bootlegging," according to the paper.

In response to widespread complaints and dwindling participation, L.A. Unified foodservice director Dennis Barrett said the district is amending the menu. Hamburgers will return as a daily menu option and the district will discontinue some of the more exotic ethnic and vegetarian dishes. Pizza will also be offered, but with a whole-wheat crust, low-fat cheese and low-sodium sauce.

The L.A. Unified School District serves some 650,000 meals daily. Its healthy lunch menus were designed to comply with the federal government's updated dietary guidelines, which recommend, for instance, that fruits and vegetables make up half the plate.

The district banned soda in 2004 and more recently banned the sale of "junk food" during the school day and called for more produce and less salt and fat to be served.