Oakland’s innovations create healthy school food.
Jennifer LeBarre, Director of Nutrition Services for the Oakland Unified School District in California, says there’s an adage that school food service directors used to share. She recalls: “We used to say, ‘Everyone knows how to eat healthy and just makes the choice not to.” But now, she says, “that’s not the case for our students who are living in food deserts. They may not necessarily have access to fresh fruits and vegetables. Children are developing their lifetime eating habits not just at the kitchen table, but at the cafeteria table.”
With that in mind, as the school year begins in Oakland, LeBarre and her team are working to ensure that students develop an awareness of healthy eating at the school cafeteria table and beyond. Launching innovative programs, the district is working with partners in the community to help students develop healthy habits for life.
For example, in 21 Oakland schools, LeBarre and her team have worked with the East Bay Asian Youth Center to set up produce markets. Through the markets, parents are able to buy fresh produce at school, and students sample dishes made with those same fruits and vegetables in their school lunches or at school salad bars. The process links school and home, making students aware of fresh, healthy foods and encouraging their parents to cook and eat with them as well.
The district is working to expand access to and awareness of fresh, local produce in other ways, too. This year, LeBarre and her team are launching “California Thursdays,” an initiative encouraging students to explore nutrition by eating fruits and vegetables that are “California-grown and California-produced”. Another community partner, the Center for Ecoliteracy, has released a cookbook called California Food for California Kids, which will serve as the basis for meals and lesson plans.
LeBarre emphasizes the importance of community partners as “another voice” advocating for healthy school food and helping school dining services obtain key resources. But beyond participating in innovative programs, the school community can do much to promote healthy eating every day. LeBarre advises all school stakeholders — parents, school administrators and teachers — to serve as role models for a healthy lifestyle and support the work of the school dining team.
“I think the very first thing is to lead by example,” she says.
Read more in HSC’s School Food blog series:
- Planning for the Future of School Food
- Traditional Foods Meet Modern Tech: School Food in St. Paul
- Back to School, Back to Good Food