Vote yes on fresh school meals

When we deny kids nutrition, we deny them a future


OPINION My young friend ate school meals in San Francisco for 12 years. With food in short supply at home, he had little choice but to eat cafeteria offerings, but he was disheartened by the rubbery meat patties and limp vegetables that characterize frozen reheated school lunches. That's why he was thrilled to hear that SFUSD wants to replace frozen meals with freshly prepared entrees. Although his school lunch days are over, his younger siblings still rely on the cafeterias. He hopes they will never again be served a meal still frozen in the middle, or the lifeless, tasteless food he remembers.

For years, parents and students have identified "fresh healthy food" as the most wanted improvement to school meals. SFUSD has tried to respond; middle and high schools offer lunch choices prepared daily on site, in addition to the traditional frozen reheated entree. But now SFUSD is ready to move forward with a new meal contract that would ensure all meals at every school are freshly prepared locally.

School officials are bringing the proposed contract, with Oakland-based Revolution Foods, to the Board of Education on Dec. 11. With board approval, students will be enjoying freshly prepared meals as early as January 7th.

Healthier food, happier students and parents — what's not to like? The price, of course. In expensive San Francisco, with above-average food and labor costs, the money the federal government provides for school meals for low income students is already insufficient to cover the cost of serving those meals. Replacing cheaper frozen entrees with freshly prepared offerings drives the price higher still, and despite the passage of Prop 30, SFUSD continues to face major financial challenges.

The board should approve the new meal contract despite its higher cost — because academic achievement, equity and proper nutrition are not unrelated issues. Better food means better nourished students; healthy kids take fewer sick days and are better able to learn. Kids who eat only a few bites of unappealing meals return to class without the fuel they need to power them through an academic afternoon. Hungry students struggle to focus, or even to stay awake; they can be quick to anger (a condition school counselors call "hangry" — angry because hungry) and disrupt learning for everyone.

SFUSD's student nutrition department runs the largest public feeding program in the city; the majority of school cafeteria patrons are low-income children of color, so offering better food is an equity issue.

If the board nixes the new contract, meal costs will still increase in 2013, with food, milk and delivery prices already rising. So SFUSD would find itself paying more for the same frozen meals students reject now.

The SF Board of Education meets at 6pm, in the Irving G. Breyer Board Meeting Room on the ground floor at 555 Franklin Street.

Dana Woldow is the parent of three SFUSD graduates, and has been an advocate for better school food since 2002.


In writing this editorial, do you anticipate this not being voted positively on by the Board? I find this strange, since it seems as if it would be highly supported by that body. Does an insider know differently?

Posted by Guest on Dec. 05, 2012 @ 10:24 am

rather scary name implies, has not been a profitable business, and has survived only because of bailouts from the city of Oakland. As Oakland spirals further into fiscal chaos, we might find the costs of this noble idea increasing.

Posted by Guest on Dec. 05, 2012 @ 10:44 am

Dana was having trouble posting this reply, so I'm doing it for her:

If this contract were budget-neutral, I would expect it to pass easily at the BOE, but it is not budget neutral. These better meals come at a higher price, and with the SFUSD still facing some tough budgetary times, it is reasonable to expect that responsible school board members will do their due diligence and look closely at the costs of the new contract. The point of my piece is that the Board should consider, as part of their due diligence, the related issues of how malnutrition affects academic achievement, school attendance, student behavior, etc. Each of these areas carries its own extra cost - remediation for students who fall behind in classes because they can't focus when hungry, lost ADA funding when poorly nourished students get sick more often and miss school, a heavier counseling load when hungry/angry students act out (again, missing out on instructional time when sent to see the counselor after disrupting the classroom, thereby falling farther behind and eventually requiring expensive remediation...) How many of the 2000 or so high school juniors who are not on track to graduate because of insufficient credits are skipping lunch because they don't like the food? Algebra is hard enough to grasp when you are well-fed - try learning it on an empty stomach! I encourage school board members to consider ALL of the fiscal consequences of their decision on the new school meal contract, and vote for freshly prepared meals despite the higher cost (over frozen).

Dana Woldow

Posted by tim on Dec. 06, 2012 @ 11:57 am

You can choose it if you want, but only if you are willing to pay a lot more.

Tim, how much will you be personally donating to help meet this extra cost? what about Bruce - he has millions?

Oh wait, you'd rather "tax the rich" instead.

Posted by Guest on Dec. 06, 2012 @ 12:20 pm

are made in Chicago -- if I recall correctly from a discussion I had with one of the employees of the outfit. Does it make sense? California has a cornucopia of agricultural products and we're feeding the kids "Swanson's" from the Mid-west?

Yes there are hidden costs from such thrift -- and many of such hidden costs *do* show up on the SFUSD ledger as Tim/Dana have pointed out -- but also the idea of having local government expenditures stay local should be considered.

Posted by lillipublicans on Dec. 06, 2012 @ 12:38 pm

to the agricultural heartland, and where there are producers of scale like Sysco, Con-Agra, General Mills etc.

If the meals are frozen, then distance is immaterial.

Posted by Guest on Dec. 06, 2012 @ 1:27 pm

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