Monday, June 20, 2011

Does West Sacramento Need a Food Revolution?

I have been an avid Jamie Oliver fan since I began watching "The Naked Chef" in high school, charmed by this quirky, charismatic chef with an irresistible accent. I admire him now as a person who has not been content with professional success, but has used his fame to promote positive change in child nutrition all over the Westernized world.

After watching the most recent episodes of his "Food Revolution" television show, currently set in my home state (but in LA), I began to wonder how Oliver's cry for change applied to my own neighborhood. I decided to do some investigative work on West Sacramento school lunches, choosing to examine a K-8 school, the local public high school, and a charter school.
Example #1: Southport Elementary (K-8):
The menu I found online is conveniently vague, often citing "veggie" or "fruit", but we all know that not all veggies and fruits are created equal. In some schools, pizza sauce and french fries qualify as veggies! And throwing a scoop of bagged salad and a scoop of canned peaches doesn't exactly make up for a poor quality main dish, in my opinion.

The main dishes being served to the children sound heavily processed, previously frozen as opposed to freshly made, and heavy on fat: chicken alfredo, chili dogs, pizza, chicken nuggets, corn dogs, and tater tots. This menu was used in all the K-8 schools in the Washington Unified School District from May-June 2011.
Example #2: River City High School:
I found the worst food overall on this incredibly outdated menu from last November, although there does appear to be more variety compared with the K-8 schools, which could be good or bad. Nearly every daily featured main dish appears to be fried, processed, or both. Chicken Fried Steak. Rib B Que Sandwich. Popcorn (read: fried) Chicken. Most mysteriously: Pepperoni Stuffed Sandwich. (?)

Hamburgers and pizza are available every day and a high school student could ostensibly subsist on a daily diet of these two items. I have the sneaking suspicion we're not talking about grass-fed beef or whole wheat buns.

The saving grace is that a salad bar is available daily and the menu proclaims that "all options come with fruit, salad and milk". Again, there is vagueness - is this fresh fruit or processed? Low fat milk or chocolate milk with as much sugar as a candy bar? Are we counting French fries as a veggie? Huge room for improvement here.
Example #3: West Sac Prep Charter School
By far the best of the bunch, which is obviously tied to the fact that they are independent from the universal school district menus. All students receive breakfast and lunch at no charge to their families. While a menu was not available online, the school's website says that school meals include:
- All Natural turkey & beef products are purchased from Niman Ranch
- Meals have no trans fats, reduced sugars and are high in whole grains
- Organic lettuce & vegetables
- Meats purchased from Applegate Farms (even our hot dogs are organic)
- Tillamook Cheddar & All Natural American cheese ( with no dye added)
- Barilla Plus Pasta (a whole grain product)
- Two vegetarian options daily (!!!!)
As a final clincher, their plates are biodegradable & compostable!

Conclusion: Dear Washington Unified School District: We can do better. We must do better. Others have done it, and so can we. We need fresh, healthy meals in our cafeterias and a school garden in every school. This is a challenge to rise to the occasion.


  1. At Southport, ambiguous terms are used because student have choices. They have a fruit and veggie bar from which the students can choose from an assortment of fruits and vegetables. Sometimes, most of the fruit is canned, but there's always something fresh. There are always some fresh, raw veggies, too, even if it's only carrots and such. My boy tends to hit the pineapple pretty hard.

    Truth be told, this is the one thing about school lunch that makes me feel okay about occasionally NOT packing him a lunch.

  2. Thanks for the first-hand information. I totally understand why the menu has to be vague, what with varying availability for all of the schools in the district who are using the same menu. I'm just going off of what I see on the menu to gauge the nutrition, but then so are most parents I suppose.

  3. I think you make a good case here...but it begs the question...will Stacy be on Jamie's next show if it's in Sac...I think yes;)

  4. I think he should come here to Sacramento! Sounds like our cafeteria's need a lot of nutritional help. I have watched his show and it is pitiful what he encounters. And the stubbornness of officials to change is crazy.


Thanks for sharing your thoughts with me!