Town Square

The struggle for fresh - but affordable - food

Original post made on Apr 18, 2008

Despite several years of trying to serve meals both affordable and healthful, Palo Alto's school-food program is still in debt. Facing chronically low participation rates that push up costs, the district will consider yet another change to its school-food program this month.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Wednesday, April 16, 2008, 12:00 AM


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Posted by One Parent
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 18, 2008 at 10:17 am

While it is always a challenge to satisfy everyone’s taste buds at the same time, it is especially difficult to meet the challenge with low cost. As a caring parent, I appreciate the financial complication facing the PAUSD and the hot lunch caterer. I just can’t help offering views from the other side.

I was surprised to learn that the low subscription rate to the hot lunch program was attributed to the average income level of Palo Alto residents, that it is too high on average to qualify for government subsidy. This can’t be further from truth. Comparison with income level of East Palo Alto is also misleading (how about that of, say, Los Altos or Menlo Park?). The fact is, the current hot lunch simply just isn’t healthy!

I am not sure whether anyone mentioned in the article “The struggle for fresh but affordable food” has ever seen how the hot lunch looks like. There are maybe 5-6 pieces of chopped lettuce, or alternatively, some canned peach or orange, served along side the high calorie, high fat/cholesterol/sodium fast food one gets from the likes of Macdonald’s (I do give them credit for offering milk, even though not organic). For example, the menu for this week includes cheese stick, corn dog and pizza. It is FAAAAAAR from “healthy”---this is the issue with low subscription rate for hot lunch. The school district’s guideline for food is that 20% daily intake is too much and 5% is too little. How much sodium or cholesterol does any of the above contain, by the way?

I do not think paying that $3-4 is an issue for most of the Palo Alto families. A lot of the home made lunch cost more than that. Not to mention the time taken during the morning rush.

On the other hand, I have also seen parents packing a simple peanut butter jelly sandwich with whole wheat bread, or plain pasta with fried eggs, for their kids’ lunch. If it is not totally nutritious, at least it keeps the high fat and sodium out of the children’s little bodies. Sufficient amount of fresh fruit is also always present in the lunch bags (we are living in California, I never understand why we feed our kids canned fruits…).

People pick the hot lunch program for its convenience, not because it is healthy---and it is not, in its current form. The hot lunch program does make it a bit easier for parents in a rush.

The caterer is not to blame either on this subject. Low cost business is a really hard one. In order to keep the cost down, the caterer is forced to pick up the industrially manufactured, bulk processed, pre-cooked fast food as its own source. They just can’t afford to operate like Piazza’s deli counter.

This is a hard problem to solve. The school district will be the gate keeper for selection of TRUE healthy food, and to consider the balance sheet. Until real healthy food is provided, the school district will continue to see low subscription rate to the hot lunch program, and there will always be the challenge with financial loss.

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Posted by PV Parent
a resident of Palo Verde School
on Apr 18, 2008 at 10:30 am

One Parent

You are so right. My child is at present a hot lunch server at his school and his comments are incredible. He normally is allowed to choose one day a week (usually pizza day) to buy lunch, the rest of the time he takes lunch. This week, he is eating lunch every day. His descriptions of the food are incredible, he is not taking the salad or fruit because it is yucky, he comes home really hungry because the portion size may be suitable for a kindergartner, but not an active 10 year old boy growing like a weed.

Over the years I have had notes home from teachers saying that if we choose hot lunch then please also send in a snack as many of the kids are too hungry to function after lunch.

Healthy lunches is one thing. Having lunches that kids will eat and will satisfy them is another.

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Posted by Hoover12
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Apr 18, 2008 at 4:13 pm

In East Palo Alto, they did a taste test, and the kids preferred the healthy, organic lunches.

If you give kids a choice, they'll make informed decisions!

Web Link

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Posted by jill
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Apr 18, 2008 at 4:35 pm

This a ridiculous discussion.

By now every one knows what a health diet is and parents should exercise their parental authority to ensure their kids eat well, it is not the responsibility or the "nanny" state.

The real problem is kids spending some much time in front of a screen and not getting any exercise

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Posted by sara
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Apr 18, 2008 at 4:46 pm

In Haiti, where three-quarters of the population earns less than $2 a day and one in five children is chronically malnourished, the one business booming amid all the gloom is the selling of patties made of mud, oil and sugar, typically consumed only by the most destitute.

“It’s salty and it has butter and you don’t know you’re eating dirt,” said Olwich Louis Jeune, 24, who has taken to eating them more often in recent months. “It makes your stomach quiet down.”

Gloat if you wish

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Posted by One Parent
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 18, 2008 at 5:01 pm

Thank you for pointing it out, PV Parent, about how tasty school lunch is. I totally agree with you. My kids come home raiding the fridge because they were hungry after the hot lunch.

Jill, I think we are all on the same page about criteria of what makes healthy food. We were discussing the issue with regard to how the school district could offer healthy hot lunch program without losing money.

I suggest you go back and read the article first. The assertion made in the article was that PAUSD loses money because not enough students sign up for the "healthy" lunch offered currently by the caterer, and the reason for the low signup rate is not enough families qualify for government subsidy in Palo Alto, as does in East Palo Alto.

What logic is this---Jill, I think this would be a more interesting topic for you to explore and comment on...

And I was just trying to point out that the hot lunch is far from being healthy today, and this is the true reason for low signup rate...

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Posted by jil
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Apr 18, 2008 at 5:09 pm

I provide my kids health lunches, it takes only a few minutes prepare.

If there is a market for it Whole Pay Check will start selling a larger variety of kids lunches.

The regular food at PAUSD is terrible, remember the downer meat allthose kids were eating before the recall.

kids do not like the health food menu.

The diet is a big breakfast, a sandwich for lunch and a health dinner.

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Posted by bill
a resident of Barron Park
on Apr 19, 2008 at 9:46 pm

Parents are responsible for serving their children a good breakfast and dinner. It would take little to provide a reasonable lunch of sandwich, fruit and maybe chips to appeal to the kids. It's a cop out to say there isn't time in the morning to fix a lunch. Go to bed or get up 15 minutes earlier. You do this to beat the traffic when you go on any vacation.

If the parents won't prepare a lunch, it is not the responsibility of government to provide our affluent families with subsidies. Ask the parents to sign up in advance for lunches at a fixed cost. Knowing the money available, a caterer can estimate his costs and supply those children with better lunches.

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Posted by Parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 20, 2008 at 9:14 am


You don't really get it. Of course the majority of us are doing just what you said. There are less and less lunches being bought at schools. For this reason, the lunch program is losing more money and these costs are taking precedence over other things that would benefit our schools. If we could make the program at least break even, then there would be more money for education. Therefore, it is pretty important that the lunch program does better.

As I said, most parents I know do make lunches and the school lunch is just a safety net for those days when the parent is sick, or one parent is out of town, or the refrigerator is empty due to those late night munchies last night. I feel sure that you don't take your lunch with you to work at your job every day, that there are times when you have to buy something to eat. Likewise, our kids need that fallback at school. And yes, our kids do have to pre-order their lunches (sometimes the day before) and the caterer has estimated the costs. In fact the cost of our lunches went up considerably this year at every level. There are also a certain number of kids on reduced lunches so to say that all kids are from affluent families and getting subsidies from government is a mistake. There are no subsidies, just debt which PAUSD has to carry.

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Posted by jill
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Apr 20, 2008 at 2:13 pm

Well the solution for those FEW times when a parent cannot make lunch

give your kid a microwave meal and have ovens at the school

My son did this at Ohlone they had an oven in the class room