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LAUSD contemplating how kids can eat more and waste less

Mike Szymanski | May 29, 2015

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One frustrated LAUSD  teacher at a middle school collected two days of wasted food from two classrooms.

One frustrated LAUSD teacher at a middle school collected two days of wasted food from two classrooms.

With the third and final phase of LA Unified’s Breakfast in the Classroom rollout ending today, district officials are now assessing how to minimize the amount of wasted and uneaten food left behind.

Already, new procedures are in the works for the start of the new school year in August, said Laura Benavidez, the program’s project manager.

“We are hearing fewer complaints from the teachers, and we are addressing them as they come up,” she said.

But waste is still a concern. One teacher at a school that started the program earlier this year, said, “The students couldn’t pick what they wanted; they had to take it all or nothing, and it all had to go in this big plastic bag to get thrown away.”

So next year, the district plans to implement the “Save it For Later” program, “where a child can put an apple or string cheese in his backpack and save it for later,” Benavidez explained. “We don’t want them carrying around milk, though.”

Another possible pilot program will be to give the students four choices, and they can pick three. The “Offer Four, Choose Three” plan is similar to what some cafeterias do for lunch, but Benavidez said, “We want to make things easy for the teachers and want them to have minimal involvement.”

Carol Convey, a parent who is involved with three east Valley schools, said “When teachers check off what students take, then the next day they are given fewer supplies — and maybe it’s something the kids like — then some of them will go hungry. That’s not right.”

Benavidez said that the district is working with kitchen managers to make more accurate assessments of what students will eat.

“We have to train them to be better at looking to see what the classroom had the last time coffee cake was offered, not just how many took food the day before,” she said. “That is a site by site issue.”

Convey added, “Some teachers hate Breakfast in the Classroom, but it should not be ignored that it helps the kids a lot. They tell me they appreciate it.”

Milk is generally the most-tossed item, a problem Benavidez acknowledged.

“We are aware that a lot of milk is going to waste, and we are checking with the USDA representatives about that,” she said. The milk is required to be served, but given the choice, many students pick juice.

One disturbing trend that the district has noticed is that fewer lunches are being served. The district gets more federal money to serve lunches than breakfasts.

“We are still serving about 340,000 lunches a day while we are serving 350,000 breakfasts,” Benavidez said.

Every school that gets 70 percent of the students to eat breakfast earns 20 cents per day per student. Of the 630 schools that launched Breakfast in the Classroom over the past three years, 588 of them, or 93 percent, have reached the incentive level of getting 70 percent of their students to eat breakfast.

“As of March, we’ve provided over $3 million in incentive funds back to the school sites,” Benavidez said.

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