PALO ALTO – While unhealthy school meals are prompting legislators around the country to consider laws making them better, some California school districts are hoping to achieve that goal by going organic.
The Palo Alto Unified School District is considering such a switch, following the lead of Berkeley schools that made the move more than a year ago.
The Palo Alto schools held a tasting Friday to determine what organic foods students would eat. The idea is to offer chemical-free ingredients, and fresh, locally grown, organic fruits and vegetables to children.
Alicia Michelson, a fifth-grader at Ohlone Elementary School where the tasting was held, tried the organic strawberries, macaroni and cheese, and rice.
“I think it was better than what we usually have,” she said. “I think we should have more organic things, because it’s better for our health.”
Students placed paper clips in one of three tubs marked “yummy,” “OK” or “yuck,” to let school officials know what they thought. Most of the votes for foods including burritos, pasta and chicken fettucine were “yummy,” but some, such as the chickenless nuggets, received mostly “OK” votes.
Ohlone third-grader Catherine Volpe usually buys her lunch at school, and said that although she didn’t know what organic meant, she liked the food better.
“It was delicious,” she said. “It just tasted a little better and a bunch of things were much more healthy.”
Berkeley Unified School District decided more than a year ago to get many of its ingredients from local organic farmers or from its school gardens.
Palo Alto Unified won’t be switching its meal provider. Instead, the district is working with Sodexho, the Maryland-based food service giant, to provide organic lunches to three elementary schools, and then possibly expanding it to 14 other district schools. Because Sodexho works in schools nationally, the district is hoping the change catches on.
“This can happen everywhere if people support it,” said Jesse Cool, a member of Palo Alto’s Healthy School Lunches committee. “Hopefully, organic is not elitist any more. All kids deserve to have it.”
But if the change to organic is made, kids may not see a drastic overhaul of lunch menus. They’ll still be able to get pizza and cookies.
“We’re trying to do the food they’re used to eating, but maybe make it taste a little better and be a little healthier,” Cool said.
The change could affect cost, said Alva Spence, area manager for Sodexho and food service consultant for the district. Currently, school lunches cost students about $2.20. The price of milk alone could rise about 50 cents for an 8-ounce carton when the move is made to organic, Spence said.
That wouldn’t deter Kristi Vandivier, whose two sons attend second and fourth grade at Ohlone. Vandivier’s children bring their lunches, which she says are healthier than the meals the school already offers.
“It’s worth it to me to pay the extra money,” she said.