School Lunches Missing the Mark for Nutrition Standards

Courtney Williams's picture
Monday, July 9, 2012

It's lunchtime at McKinley Elementary School in San Diego, and the kitchen is filled with the aroma of chicken teriyaki and hamburgers. But there are no pots or cooking utensils in sight. An industrial four-burner stove sits idle.

Three workers bustle from the refrigerator, oven and food-warming box, preparing racks of reheated frozen foods. As students line up, the staff sets out trays of burgers, bean-and-cheese burritos and chicken stir-fry with rice.

Like many school districts in the state, the San Diego Unified School District doesn't have the equipment or staff to cook fresh meals from scratch. It does its best with limited federal funding. After accounting for labor and overhead, the district has about $1 left to spend on each lunch, so it relies heavily on processed foods.

The district works hard to serve fresh produce, offering salad bars at nearly every campus. But when state inspectors visited the district five years ago, they found some of the lunches missed federal nutritional requirements. Nutritionists evaluated one week's worth of meals and found some lacked sufficient calories and had excessive amounts of fat and sodium.

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