Fatty corn dogs and sugary coffee cake may become extinct in thousands of school cafeterias nationwide under a landmark new alliance among Los Angeles Unified and five other major urban school districts to leverage their vast purchasing power for healthier fare and lower prices.
School districts in L.A., New York, Chicago, Dallas, Miami and Orlando, Fla., plan to announce Thursday efforts to use their collective clout — 2.5 million daily meals served and $530 million annually spent — to make wholesome food a national standard. The districts are also aiming for more eco-friendly practices; replacing polystyrene and plastic with biodegradable trays and flatware, for instance.
As such diet-related maladies as diabetes and obesity increase among children, the quest to reduce fat, sugar and sodium in school meals has gained new urgency among districts. L.A. Unified has overhauled its menu with whole grains and fresh produce; New York offers a salad bar at every school; and Chicago has swapped cupcakes for fruit at school celebrations.
Now, by joining forces, the alliance members hope to move the market and eventually enlist other school districts in the crusade. Already, San Diego, Oakland and Houston have all expressed interest.
The new Urban School Food Alliance first met last summer in Denver, and has since conferred regularly by teleconference to share and review menu items that use whole grain products, low-fat dairy, fresh produce and lean protein.
To demonstrate their collective mission, alliance members plan to serve the same lunch at all six school districts in March. The menu: savory roasted chicken, brown rice with seasoned black or red beans, steamed broccoli, fresh seasonal fruit and milk.
Contribution: Teresa Watanabe, LAT