Blog | March 27, 2020

Serving Healthy Meals That Students Will Eat

San Diego Unified School District is meeting nutrition standards and changing the way students think about school food

Today, excess body fat is the leading medical reason that the opportunities afforded by military service are out of reach for most young Americans. Military leaders have long believed that child nutrition is directly correlated with the strength of America’s future military readiness, and a key to battling childhood obesity is the National School Lunch Program.

Brigadier General Rick Ash, USAF (Ret.)

Brigadier General Rick Ash, USAF (Ret.) sampling the healthy lunch items served at Clark Middle School

On March 3, Brigadier General Rick Ash, U.S. Air Force (Ret.), and Mission: Readiness staff members traveled to Clark Middle School in the City Heights neighborhood of San Diego to see firsthand the innovative efforts their team is leading to serve students healthy meals in alignment with the National School Lunch Program.

Mr. Gary Petill, Director, Food and Nutrition Services Department, and Mr. Fred Espinosa, Food Services Manager of Production and Acquisition, led the tour of Clark Middle School’s kitchen and storage facilities, preparation, and service areas, and provided a firsthand look (and taste) of their meal and snack offerings.

On a daily basis Mr. Petill, Mr. Espinosa, and their team provide more than 135,000 meals and snacks to students and staff throughout San Diego Unified School District (USD) to support student academic success and promote healthy eating habits that lead to lifelong positive nutrition practices.

Fruit and Vegetable stand at Clark Elementary School

Fruit and Vegetable stand at Clark Elementary School

Following the nutrition guidelines prescribed by the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, San Diego USD serves whole-grain rich products; low fat and fat-free milk; 100 percent fruit and/or vegetable juices; and a variety of fresh, seasonal fruits and vegetables.

Children consume up to 50 percent of their daily calories while in school and away from their parents, making school cafeterias an important setting to promote healthy eating habits. Acknowledging this fact, the Food and Nutrition Department at San Diego USD shared that their driving focus is “serving healthy meals that students will eat.”

Example of food items served to San Diego USD students that meet nutrition standards

Example of food items served to San Diego USD students that meet nutrition standards

Considering the fickle appetites of students, innovation is at the forefront of the District’s work. For example, menu engineering that takes into account nutrition standards, restrictive cost parameters, and student input has resulted in creative meals and snacks that students really enjoy.

On-the-go lunch option at Clark Middle School

On-the-go lunch option at Clark Middle School

Furthermore, innovation and student feedback has helped address plate waste. The District actively promotes the “offer versus serve” provision, which has helped reduce their food waste while permitting students to decline foods they do not intend to eat.

Altogether, the work of San Diego USD and Clark Middle School offers a prime example of what it means to stay the course on school nutrition standards by serving healthy, well-balanced meals to students.


UPDATE: Since the site visit to Clark Middle School, San Diego Unified School District announced the closure of all schools in an effort to prevent the spread of COVID-19. The District’s Food and Nutrition Services Department partnered with Feeding San Diego and the San Diego Food Bank to offer meals and produce at drive-thru/walk-up distribution points, free of charge.

Children will need to be present to receive meals, and each child 18 years and younger may take one lunch and one breakfast for the next day. There will be no congregate feeding; all food is to be taken and consumed offsite. See social distancing guidelines to stay safe.

Meal distribution times for all locations will be from Monday through Friday, 11:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. A full list of serving locations can be found here.

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