Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Inside scoop on SFUSD's nutrition services

Dana Woldow is the co-chair of the SFUSD student nutrition and physical activity committee, and she has been a district parent for 18 years. She got in touch with me about starting a thread on SFUSD's nutrition services and school food. I immediately had lots of question and she responded with thoughtful answers. I'm posting our email conversation in the form of a Q&A below. Dana will be monitoring the comments section so feel free to ask more questions.

Q - What's your background?
A - I have been a parent in the SFUSD since 1991; I have three sons, the youngest of which will graduate this coming June; all three of my kids went through the SFUSD K-12. I first became involved with school food in 2002, when my second child was in middle school at Aptos MS; Aptos did a pilot program to get junk food out of the cafeteria and track the revenue. Based on the success of the Aptos pilot (more revenue generated selling healthy food than junk food), and in response to a school board resolution to get junk food out of all schools by the start of the 2003-04 school year, the SFUSD Student Nutrition and Physical Activity Committee was formed. I have been parent co-chair since autumn 2003. I do not work for the school district and all of the work I do for better school food is done as a volunteer. You can read more about the Aptos pilot, or the complete short history of school food in the SFUSD, at www.sfusdfood.org

Q - Why do we have to fill out that meal application form?
A - Student Nutrition Services (SNS), the district department responsible for providing school meals, is asking all families to fill out the meal application, even those who know they won’t qualify based on family income. SNS has annual expenses of about $16 million. Their main source of income is from federal and state reimbursements for breakfasts and lunches served to students who qualify for free and reduced price meals. Without a meal application on file, SNS cannot receive the full government reimbursement for those meals. Based on family size and income, as reported on the meal application, students are designated eligible for free or reduced price meals, or they are designated as being on “paid” status (meaning not reimbursable). The “paid” category includes not only students whose family income is too high to qualify for reimbursement, but also students whose families have not filled out a form at all. SNS receives just 25 cents from the government to offset the cost of “paid” lunches, while total reimbursement for a student qualified for free meals is $2.78. Students on “paid” status are expected to pay for their school meals. However, not all of them do so.

Please visit www.sfusdfood.org for more information on this, and a downloadable flyer your school can use to explain about the form to parents (available in English, Spanish, and Chinese.) Scroll down to the section called ‘Free and Reduced Price Meal Applications’.

Q - Can my child get a vegetarian lunch?
A - Yes. Different schools follow different procedures for ordering the vegetarian lunch, but in all cases, the lunch MUST be ordered in advance; it causes major headaches if students are allowed to take a vegetarian meal which they did not preorder (because the caf workers only order enough of them to cover the preorders.) If a child is allowed to select, for example, the cheese pizza at the last minute, it means that some other student coming through the line later, who did preorder the cheese pizza, will not be able to have it because the other child took it. At some schools, parents place preorders with the school secretary, but at all schools, the order can be placed directly with the cafeteria worker. Vegetarian lunches must be preordered no later than lunchtime of the day BEFORE the meal is wanted – so, order by lunchtime Monday to get the meal on Tuesday – because the cafeteria workers call in their orders for the following day right after the meal period is over. The meal can be, but does not have to be, prepaid; it is also fine if the student simply brings his money and pays for the meal on the day it is served. Some parents have a standing order for the vegetarian meal; if the caf worker is doing his/her job properly, there will always be enough meals for those students who have preordered them. The problem comes in when sometimes a caf worker allows kids who have NOT preordered the vegetarian meal to choose it at the last minute; that often results in other kids, who DID preorder, finding there is no meal for them. The best way to ensure that your child gets the vegetarian meal is to place your preorder directly with the cafeteria worker. If you preorder through a third party (like the school secretary, or whatever) you are running the risk that the message may not be delivered to the caf worker in time (that is, before the end of lunch the day before.)

Q - Where can I find a monthly cafeteria menu?
A - Most elementary schools send the monthly menu home at or just before the start of the month. You can find it online at http://portal.sfusd.edu/template/default.cfm?page=nutrition

Q - My child has food allergies or special medical needs - how can I get him a meal he can safely eat?
A – Contact the Principal at your school, who has a form to be filled out for students qualified for free and reduced price meals who also have special dietary needs. A note from your child’s medical authority (doctor, doctor’s assistant, or nurse practitioner) is also required.

Q - Can I send cupcakes and candy to school for my child's birthday?
A – Yes on cupcakes, no on candy. Cake or cupcakes may be served for birthday celebrations but fruit or vegetable muffins (banana, apple, zucchini, carrot, etc.) are recommended alternatives to cake. Candy, soda and chips should not be sent to school. Families are encouraged to feature primarily fresh fruits and vegetables for any classroom celebrations involving food during the school day. Other snacks can be chosen from the guide available at
or from the list available at
Acceptable beverages include water, milk, and 100% fruit juice (please see http://www.sfusdfood.org/pdfs/beverage.pdf for more suggestions).
Teachers are strongly urged to limit birthday parties to one per month for all students born in that month, with one cake for all to share.

Q - Why can't we have better food in the cafeterias? Are there any plans to introduce organic fruits and vegetables and milk?
A – The short answer is, lack of money. The federal reimbursement for a lunch served to a child qualified to receive free meals at most SF schools is $2.59; the state adds .19, for a total of $2.78. This must pay not only for the food, but also for labor and benefits, and all overhead costs, including delivery, utilities, pest control, garbage collection, etc. After all non food costs are covered, about $1 is left for food, and the meal must include 8 oz milk, 2 oz protein (usually meat), 3/8 cup vegetable, 3/8 cup fruit, and a serving of grain – all for $1. Organic products are vastly more expensive and are not affordable in most cases. For more information on this, please visit www.sfusdfood.org and scroll down to the section called “Want to help?” and click on the link “Why can’t we have better food in our schools?”

Q - Where does the food come from?
A - The meals served in all elementary schools, middle schools and high schools come from Preferred Meal Systems. This company specializes in providing nutritious frozen entrees, which are then completed by the addition of fresh breads, local fresh produce, and fresh milk. The hamburger and hot dog buns are fresh 100% whole wheat and come from Athens Baking Company in Fresno (CA); other whole grain breads served with the school meals come from Alpha Baking Co. in Chicago. Fresh produce comes from JC Produce in Sacramento (CA). The milk is from Berkeley Farms in Hayward (CA) and contains no bovine growth hormone (rBST.). The Preferred meals are delivered daily and heated to food safe temperatures for meal service at the schools. Other assorted food products necessary for the production of all a la carte sales items come from Sysco. The bread is Hi-Vibe Bread, carried only by Sysco; it is whole grain, comes frozen, and is baked fresh as needed at the cooking schools.

Q - Why aren't they scratch cooking in our cafeteria?
A. - Twenty years ago, there was scratch cooking done in nearly every school. Over time, the increasing costs of labor and equipment led to the closure of more and more of the kitchen areas of school cafeterias, and a reliance on food which could be prepared at one site and then shipped to another site, where it is reheated and served. Elementary schools have not done on-site cooking since 1988. Most elementary schools no longer even have a kitchen area, those rooms having long ago been taken over for other school needs, including class size reduction. The idea of returning to scratch cooking is very appealing to some parents, but it is not feasible. Even in the few schools which still retain a kitchen space, there is no budget for renovation or the purchase of new equipment. While parents sometimes think that volunteer efforts, combined with creative grant writing, might produce the ability to renovate a school kitchen, they fail to consider the added cost of staffing a cooking kitchen, estimated to be well over $100,000 per year for even the smallest schools, at current salary levels. Even with 100% of students eating the school meals, there would not be enough revenue generated to cover the cost of the food and the higher labor cost.

Q - Why is chocolate milk offered?
A - Both white and chocolate are offered; there are many kids students who will drink only chocolate, and Principals have observed that when only white is offered, the kids won't even take it, let alone drink it. Often, Principals complain when chocolate is not available, because they feel it is more important to get the milk into these kids than to worry about the relatively small amount of sugar in the milk.

Regarding the sugar, the SFUSD wellness policy sets 27 grams of sugar per 8 oz as the maximum allowable in flavored milk; the Berkeley Farms milk has 26 g. This is total grams of sugar, and includes the 15 g which occur naturally in an 8 oz serving of lowfat milk; in other words, of those 26 g, 11 are "added sugar" and 15 occur naturally and would be present in white milk. That 26 g is the same amount of sugar as in 8 oz of soda, but that doesn't mean that drinking 8 oz of chocolate milk is the same as drinking 8 oz of soda. The soda contains no nutrients except the calories from the sweetener. By contrast, an 8 oz serving of milk contains 30% of the recommended daily intake of calcium; 25% of vitamin D, 16% of protein, 11% of potassium, 10% of vitamin A, 18% of vitamin B12, 24% of riboflavin, 10% of niacin, and 23% of phosphorus – a lot of nutrition in exchange for 11 extra grams of sugar (which is less than one tablespoon.)

In a perfect world, every child would just drink the white milk and be happy with it, but some of the students come from homes where the main beverage served daily is soda, or "fruit punch" or Kool Aid. They are not used to white milk and won't drink it, period. Their families cannot afford to pay the increasingly high cost for a gallon of milk at home. In the absence of chocolate milk at school, these students get no milk in their diets at all.


  1. I still don't understand why everyone is encouraged to fill out those forms even when we know we won't qualify for a subsidized lunch. It sounds like whether or not we fill it out, .25 is allocated per student. So why is it necessary? I understand that it's obviously worth it for any family that might be close to the income cut off -- might as well try and see if you qualify.

  2. As a parent volunteer member of the committee Dana chairs, I worked on doing outreach about this, and here's the reason:

    It's important for multiple reasons to get every low-income child qualified for free/reduced lunch. A LOT of other funding that comes to schools with higher numbers of low-income students depends on this -- not just the meal reimbursements.

    Since teachers can't exactly single out kids who might "look poor" and prod them to get their forms in, the only effective way to get all possible low-income kids qualified is to get ALL forms returned. Families who know they won't qualify can just list the child's name, birthdate and school and write "not interested" on the form.

    Here's one small-scale example. When we were first doing this outreach project, I tried out my spiel on my daughter's then-teacher, a fourth-grade teacher at Lakeshore. I was sure his eyes would glaze over. Instead, he practically bolted out of his chair. He had applied for a classroom grant for an environmental education project (his thing was project-based learning), but had been turned down because Lakeshore's percentage of low-income students was just a tiny bit shy of the funder's requirement. Yet Lakeshore was underreporting its percentage of low-income students, because there was no effort to get students to return the meal applications. That's just one tiny example -- multiplied by lots and lots of money, public and private. Plus it has an impact on the school's similar schools API if it accurately reports every low-income student.

  3. Students in kindergarten aren't likely to care, but as kids get older, 4th or 5th grade, and definitely by middle school, there is a real stigma that starts to develop around the idea of getting "free lunch." Kids don't want to self-identify as poor, especially in front of their classmates, and especially if they have many classmates who clearly are not "poor." It becomes very embarrassing for these kids to even turn in the meal application form, let alone eat in the caf. Anything we can do to eliminate the stigma of turning in a meal form is worth doing; at a minimum no child should have to feel ashamed of the fact that his family is basically asking for free food. When "everyone has to turn in the form", then no individual child stands out as asking for a freebie.

    Once the kids are in the lunch line, then of course there is the issue of who is paying and who isn't. Some parents prepay their child's meal, so their child doesn't have to bring cash to school. Most other school districts use a Point of Sale system, which is an electronic way of verifying a student's meal eligibility. Based on the completed meal application, each child's eligibility status (free, reduced, or paid) is programmed in; students touch a picture of their face on the screen and the meal registers automatically as free or reduced; if paid, money is deducted from an online account that parents recharge as needed. This system is going to start being installed in our schools later this year, but beginning with the middle and high schools. It may take two years or more to get to all schools, as installation is complex and manpower to accomplish it limited (like everything else in the SFUSD) but when it is in all schools, it will do a lot to help combat this stigma.

    Meanwhile, the sooner that all parents, students, and schools get used to the idea that everyone should turn in a meal form, the sooner we can eliminate that bit of stigma for our students.

  4. I will be so glad to see the point of sale system. Thanks for all your hard work on getting this.

  5. ...and thanks for your compassioned-based response.

  6. thank you Caroline for clarifying, I am not at all comfortable having my income or any of the personal information on that form readily available to my son's school employees and was not going to return the form. However, if I hand in a "not interested" partly completed form does the school get the same as they would for a non qualifying form completing child? or should I be compensating the school for me not being willing to complete the form (and if so how much)? Thanks and thanks to Dana for the amazing and thankless job you have/are doing.

  7. Me too, re the POS. Not to be a whiner, but those of us on the student nutrition committee have been trying to get this thing done since 2004, and we have been everywhere to search for the approx. $1 million to pay for it. A volunteer wrote a grant proposal which we then had to wait 18 months (!) to learn that we did not get. We asked the Board of Supervisors; no luck. We begged the Prop H committee to start funding it last year, just in time for the Superintendent to decide that he needed to divert all of the new "third third" Prop H funding just to be able to pay basic operating expenses for the district, in response to budget cuts made by the state (thanks Arnold.)

    However, the Superintendent did promise us a year ago that one way or the other, he would find the money to pay for this, and he did (Prop A) so hurray! No more panhandling for it, and even though this won't be in place in time for my own kids to use it, yours certainly will.

  8. On the subject of the meal form, you don't need to fill out your income information if you are certain that you don't qualify; just do as Caroline has directed (child's name, birthdate, grade, school, AND be sure you sign the form!), write "not interested" across the top, and return it to school.

    Then , if your child decides to eat the cafeteria meal, be sure to send $2 to school to pay for lunch (or $1.50 for the hot breakfast which will be starting later this fall - it's good!) Only students who have filled out the form and qualified for free or reduced price emals eat free.

    I say this because many Principals continue to labor under the misapprehension that "everyone eats free for the first 30 days". This is absolutely NOT true and it never has been true, and despite the best efforts of Student Nutrition Services (SNS) and other administrators to get them to understand otherwise, already this school year I have heard that Principals at several schools are still telling their communities that "everyone eats free" through September.

    Last year, losses caused by this incorrect assumption that "everyone eats free" cost the SFUSD well over $100,000; that's money that comes directly out of our children's classrooms. If your Principal is telling folks that "everyone eats free", please politely suggest that they get confirmation of that from SNS.

  9. does anyone know what the income cut off is to qualify for free or reduced lunches?

  10. For income eligibility guidelines, the chart is on the back of the meal application form, or you can go to
    and click on "SY2008-09"
    It's a pdf; there is a chart that shows what the cutoff is based on the number of people in the household. You can include not just kids, but also your parents if they live with you, or your brother in law who is couch surfing at your house while looking for work, or anyone else who lives with you.

    The district is required to pull 3% of all completed forms and verify them for accuracy. If your form is picked and they discover that something you have put is not accurate, all that happens is that your child's eligibility will revert to "paid" status and you will be asked to please file a corrected form so that they can try again to qualify your family. There is no penalty; no one yells at your kid or at you; no one demands that you pay for meals your child has already eaten. It is all very civil, the assumption being that you just made a mistake, not that you are some kind of criminal. And 97% of the completed forms do NOT get pulled for verification. Plus, all verification happens by the first week in November, so forms turned in after that time are still processed and students can still get qualified (in fact, SNS accepts forms all year) but they won't even run the 3% risk of being verified. It's just better to turn in the form right away if you think you will qualify, so that SNS can start collecting the reimbursement for your child's meals.

  11. Dana-

    Can you provide info on how we can become involved with school food advocacy and represent our schools on the Nutrition and Physical Activity Committee? I have a background in food advocacy and would like to contribute to the very worthwhile effort.


  12. To get involved with school food advocacy and the student nutrition committee, I suggest:
    1) please visit www.sfusdfood.org and read about what has already been done (so as not to try to reinvent the wheel); there is lots of information here, and the more of it you read, the better you will understand the present situation, and the constraints facing Student Nutrition Services, and those of us who are trying to improve school food
    2) come to a meeting; the first nutrition committee meeting is on October 2nd, 3:30-5pm in the board room at 555 Franklin Street; there will also be subcommittee meetings later in the year
    3)finally, I am happy to meet with any of you after you have read up on what has been happening at sfusdfood.org
    Just e-mail me at nestwife at owlbaby dot com and we can set something up. Let me know what you would like to see happening and how you are able to help.

    For something you can do right this minute to help improve school food, please visit www.sfusdfood.org and click on the banner at the top for asking Congress to provide more money for school food. If you have time to do just one thing to help the effort to feed our children better, this is it!

  13. so everyone who is interested in participating has to be vetted by you, Dana? Isn't there a public process through which one can be nominated or apply as a parent representative?

    I will definitely send in my comments re: the congressional authorization. thanks for making it easy.

  14. Nutrition committee meetings are open to the public and anyone is welcome to attend; the schedule is posted on the www.sfusdfood.org website.

    I didn't say anything about people needing to be "vetted" by me; where is that coming from?

  15. to know how 2 make ur breakfast full of nutrition visit www2.kelloggs.com
    check out the nutrition n recipe section 2 get recipe of nutritive breakfast

  16. Dana thanks for doing this, such great info. I was wondering about that choc milk deal! I have a couple questions. (1) My kids have just begun KinderG at a very poor, inner Mission school. I just learned that NONE of the 5th graders last year passed their phys ed test, and obesity is readily apparent in the kids and staff. What is SNS doing about obesity, if anything and where can we concerned parents get involved? And (2)can parents arrange organic veggie produce donations to the school? There appear to be very tight rules re: food handling, supply, etc.

  17. 6:59 pm said so everyone who is interested in participating has to be vetted by you, Dana? Isn't there a public process through which one can be nominated or apply as a parent representative?

    The only reason Dana is asking for people to have read www.sfudfood.org first is because so many people are absolutely willfully ignorant about the realities of student nutrition, and HOW HARD it is to actually make change. One of these days Dana will just get tired of the endless fight and walk away, and we will all be worse off because of it.

  18. 10:47, I've worked for years on school food issues and I'm definitely well aware of the magnitude of the childhood obesity crisis. However, there's probably good news here:

    <<< I just learned that NONE of the 5th graders last year passed their phys ed test, >>>

    Last year there was a coding glitch that caused an erroneous report that NO SFUSD students were able to pass the state fitness tests. The state Dept. of Education sent out a press release with that inaccurate information, and some local press picked it up -- big scandal, no students in the entire SFUSD could pass the fitness tests.

    It was an error! Inaccurate! Not true!

    There were some reports correcting the erroneous initial reports, but it seems possible that whoever told you that about your school missed the corrections and got the info from that original erroneous report. Truly, unless there was mass refusal to cooperate with the testing at all, has anyone ever known a school that didn't have at least a few star athletes -- even a low-income school with high obesity among the population?

    The detail is that there are six parts to the fitness test, and a coding error by an SFUSD technician made the report show that zero SFUSD students -- not one anywhere in the district -- passed the flexibility test. That was baffling in my house, since my daughter likes to show off by lying on her stomach and bending up to press the soles of her feet to the back of her head. Not only that, she has a classmate who's an actual, highly skilled contortionist. It certainly wasn't credible that no one in her school passed the easy flexibility test -- and of course so did kids in every school. So my guess is that your school isn't quite as unfit as the reports made out.

    Student Nutrition deals with the food piece but not the phys ed piece. But Prop. H did come along with funding for PE, but how that's used varies from school to school, because the community can decide through the School Site Council.
    You can learn more about the nutrition issues on the website (www.sfusdfood.org). You're right that the rules are byzantine! Thank you, USDA.

  19. What is SNS doing about obesity?
    That has been the major focus of the work the student nutrition committee does with SNS. First, in 2003-04, all junk food was removed from the school cafeterias. Those of you who are just getting started in the schools may be shocked to hear that back in 2002, every middle and high school in the City sold a la carte (ie - in addition to the mainline meal) soda and soft drinks, chips, snack cakes, Slim Jims, nachos, giant pizzas big enough for 2, huge cheeseburgers the size of your head, fatty chicken wings, hot links, and just about every other horrible thing you wouldn't want your kids to eat on a daily basis, whether they were at risk for obesity or not.

    Thanks to a resolution introduced at the BOE by Jill Wynns and Dan Kelly late in 2002, and passed unanimously by the BOE in 2003, that junk was removed and replaced with healthier and leaner choices like turkey sandwiches, caesar chicken wraps, and soups. Milk, water, and 100% fruit juice are the only beverages allowed to be sold in the caf.

    Fruit in the mainline meal used to often be canned fruit in heavy syrup; now, most often it is a piece of fresh fruit, and occasionally a cup of unsweetened applesauce or pineapple bits in their own juice (not syrup.)

    Salad bars are providing a choice of fresh vegetables to students at 25 schools, and by the end of this year, one should be operating in pretty much every MS and HS. In a future posting I will be going into this subject at greater length.

    Effective immediately, all meainline meals have 0 grams trans fat, and beginning in October, all pasta will be whole wheat, all rice will be brown, and bread continues to be whole grain.

    The meal served in the mainline must meet USDA standards and also SFUSD standards; these limit fat to no more than 30% of calories, and saturated fat to no more than 10% of calories. However, the USDA also sets minimum number of calories a meal must contain, and SFUSD is not allowed to change that. This goes back to the origins of the National School Lunch Program, which was begun after WWII when too many recruits were found to be malnourished. Many of the program regs are still based on the idea that students eating school meals are not getting enough nourishment at home, when the reality these days may be not that they are not getting enough nourishment, but that they are getting the wrong kind - fast food, fatty calories, too much sugar, not enough fresh produce.

    When I first got involved with school food, I think it would have been fair to say that the school cafeterias were definitely contributing to the obesity crisis. Now, I think that the meals kids get at school are, in many cases, by far the healthiest they receive all day.

  20. 10:56pm - I am very well aware of the information on sfusdfood.org and have been tracking the issues for several years now. Dana has been a tireless advocate on school lunch reform and should absolutely be applauded for all that she and her allies have achieved.

    However, with most other public committees that I have ever encountered, there is a clear process for how to participate, how to be nominated, how long the terms are, etc. In addition, with her son graduating this year, I fear that Dana will move on in her volunteer work, making engaging new parents even more critical.

    Therefore, the response of "come talk to me" feels insufficient. I am always a bit concerned about public processes that are controlled by one or two people, no matter how well-meaning they are.

    Dana, I will contact you for more information and try to make the next meeting (a tough time from a child-care standpoint though). But if you could post more information on the structure of the committee and how one formally engages, that would be appreciated as well.

  21. The procedures around the structure of this committee were revised at the end of last year. My co-chair on the committee, a district staff person, has responsibility for finalizing the document and providing it to the committee members; when I have my copy, I will post it on the sfusdfood.org website. If you scroll down to the bottom of the home page of that website, you can see a link for "membership criteria" and at present, it has the older version of the criteria. As soon as I have the new version, it will be available there.

    I don't know where you got the idea that one or two people control the public process of working with this committee. I never said that; where is your "information" coming from?

    There is a clear process in place and has been for a long time. The expanded protocols, which will be posted as soon as available, go into even greater detail. These protocols were produced and approved by the entire 15 person committee.

    You are right to be concerned about what the fate of this committee will be once I am less involved. Back when the committee was first formed, it was top heavy with district admins. Most of them were there, as it turned out, to try to ensure that whatever "reforms" were put into place as a result of the BOE resolution to get junk food out of the schools, would not affect what was sold in the cafeteria, the vending machines, or by fundraising groups at school - in other words, to make sure that it was "reform" in name only.

    The draft of the nutrition policy that the committee put together in spring 2003 was supposed to be put into formal language over the summer of 2003 (by admins) and then implemented at the start of the 2003-04 school year. Instead, it sat around untouched all summer, until finally a few rogue members of the committee (mostly me) made enough of a fuss that one of the obstructionist admins finally did a botched cut and paste job and produced a version of the original draft that looked like it had been put through the gibberishizer. Really - it made no sense, and called for no reforms at all.

    Aided by Hydra Mendoza, who at that time was ED of Parents for Public Schools, and an early supporter of better school food, we were able to bring this issue to the attention of then-Superintendent Arlene Ackerman. I will never forget that meeting - Ackerman called the top obstructionists and all of the parents on the committee into her conference room and asked the parents to lay out their complaints. She did not allow the obstructionists to take over the meeting, although they tried; one in particular was puffing away like a teakettle on the boil; I thought she might literally explode, and finally when she could contain herself no longer, she blurted out that she felt the committee had accomplished its work by producing the (flawed) nutrition policy and should now be disbanded. Ackerman shut her down in short order; when the dust cleared, the two top obstructionists who had previously chaired that committee were removed entirely, and Ackerman's closest friend, Elois Brooks, was made the admin co-chair, and I was made the parent co-chair.

    Brooks and Ackerman are gone now, but the perking teakettle is still employed by the district, and I have no doubt would still like this committee to go away for good. So would the SOISs - that is, the people who are the bosses of your school Principal. These folks are not the least bit interested in supporting the Wellness Policy (that is what the nutrition policy morphed into); they don't care if schools sell or serve food in competition with the school meal program, draining money away from SNS.

    For example, James Denman Middle School held a lunchtime "club fair" last week at lunchtime, and gave away soda, chips, and hot dogs to the kids. The Principal did not bother to notify the cafeteria that this was going to happen (as is required) and as a result, over 100 lunches had to be thrown away, as well as a lot of food prepared for the a la carte line. A complete waste of perfectly good food and money! Keep in mind that when SNS runs a deficit, it must be made up out of the general fund, meaning less money for your child's classroom.

    The SOIS for middle schools is Joan Hepperly. If you are as outraged as I am over this senseless waste of food and money, why not write to the Superintendent and demand that Joan Hepperly do her job and inform her middle schools that they can't just give away a free lunch without clearing it in advance with the cafeteria, so that the caf can reduce the amount of food they prepare that day and avoid waste and loss of money. And by the way, schools are supposed to follow the Wellness Policy even when they give food away for free, and that means no soda, chips, or candy - ever. Ms Hepperly should have made that clear to her middle schools, but obviously she didn't. I have been told that she is one of the most vocal opponents of the Wellness Policy; interesting that admins think they can just go ahead and ignore a board policy.

    Sorry for the rant, but I think those of you who are concerned about school food need to keep your eye on the ball. You don't need to be a member of the committee right this minute to start working for better school food.

    Finally, the offer of a meeting is just that - an offer. I am willing to donate my time, which could be spent on other things, to meet with people who would like to have more information, which is specifically tailored to their interests, than I am able to provide in this space. Or it is an option for those who cannot attend the meetings (and I am well aware the time doesn't work for some parents, but it is the only time that works for students and other school staff.) Or for those who aren't sure yet and just want to learn a little more. I am sorry if you feel that my offering to contribute my time to meet with those who feel they need more help, to get involved, is some kind of barrier; that seems a very odd response to an offer of help.
    If you feel you need no further information on the process, or assistance, then just show up to a meeting. But I don't think you ought to be suggesting that I am wrong to be offering to meet privately with those who would like to do so.

  22. Dana, I am wondering whether you would have time to set up an open meeting - outside of the 10/2 Committee meeting - to give those of us new to the District this year a run down of key actions that could be taken now (beyond the Child Nutrition Act advocacy), how to best become engaged at the school level, the district level, the community level, etc. That way, you don't have to meet with folks individually and those of us interested can meet each other as well.

    I imagine that would be a good use of your time, avoiding various redundant conversations.

  23. This is the purpose of the school food subcommittee meetings, which happen in alternate months from the nutrition committee meetings. These subcommittee meetings are also open to the public, and although they follow an agenda, anyone can just jump in and ask questions, or make comments at any time. We have been having some difficulty scheduling the first school food subcommittee meeting for this year; as soon as it has a date, I will let the world know.

    I wish that school food subcommittee meetings DID pre-empt the need for me to meet individually with people who want a meeting; it would certainly save me some time. Unfortunately, they don't. There are many reasons why some people can't or won't attend a meeting (usually childcare issues, or not being sure to what extent they want to become involved); I absolutely refuse to tell people that the ONLY way they can participate in the movement to improve school food is to hire a babysitter and jump in feet first. That just scares people off, especially new parents who are just trying to figure out how to juggle the demands of work, younger siblings and their preschool volunteer committments, a new K student and their volunteer committments, and having a life. Should I insist that these folks must pay for additional childcare (for both the younger sib and maybe the K student too) before they can even find out if this is something they want to pursue?

    As I said, no one is required to have coffee with me one morning before they can attend a committee or subcommittee meeting; most people consider my offer gracious. It is only here that I have encountered anyone who has ascribed some kind of vague sinister motive to it.

    Not to go off on another rant, but one of the main challenges of the nutrition committee in the coming years is going to be to keep interested SFUSD parents involved. I don't expect anyone to volunteer to the extent that I do, but parents really need to step up if they want to keep the committee focused on doing what is best for their children. School food has become a hot topic among funders in recent years, with all the news about the obesity crisis, and there is no shortage of folks from non profits, who are funded by grants obtained by promising to get involved with writing school food policy. These people, literally, are paid to do school food policy work, just as the representatives of the junk food industry are paid to promote their products. The difference is, of course, that the non profits are generally representing a cause far more virtuous than promoting junk food - like maybe, promoting organic produce in school lunch, or locally grown produce.

    However, rarely are they parents of SFUSD students, and the things they have promised their funders that they will do are almost never things which our school district can afford to do. Sometimes these folks demand that the school district just suck it up and underwrite the cost of doing whatever it is they have accepted grant money to promote, regardless of the impact it would have on the school district's general fund. Recall that when SNS runs a deficit, even because of providing better food like organics or whatever, that deficit gets made up out of the general fund, leaving less money for your child's classroom.

    Parents would be making a big mistake if they allow the nutrition committee to be taken over by a combination of district admins and non profits, and not have their own voice. In my opinion, the parent voice should be the major voice (along with students) on the committee. Anything we can do to get parents to be more involved, we try to do, and that includes meeting with those who need more info, at a time which works better for them than a 3:30 or 4:00 meeting.

  24. Someone asked about donating organic produce to their child's school. You are correct that there are very tight rules around procurement for food served in the school meal programs; there is just no practical way to use donated produce, whether from a school garden or a generous donor, in the school meal program. However, you can get around all that by donating the food to be served outside of mealtimes.

    As with any proposal to start something at your school which will extend outside of your own child's classroom, you need to start with getting permission from the Principal. Just as parents should hold their Principal accountable for distributing meal cards and making sure they are used (to cut down on "cash shortages" in the caf), for making sure that both breakfast and lunch meal service have adequate adult supervision (it is NOT the job of the cafeteria worker to control kids' behavior in the caf), and for insisting that teachers notify the caf several days in advance if their students will not be coming to lunch because of a field trip or other activity (again, to avoid wasted food and money), so too we need to grant our Principals the respect of acknowledging that they are ultimately responsible for everything that happens at the school site. They have the final say on what I am going to suggest, so be sure you clear it with the Principal first.

    So having obtained permission from your Principal, you could develop a program which brings a healthy organic snack of fresh fruit or veggies into the classrooms, perhaps during the last half hour of the day on Friday, once a month, or more often depending on funding or donations available. End of the day Friday is traditionally kind of a dead time, especially in the lower grades, and it is when classroom parties tend to be held. I think most teachers would be thrilled to have a parent volunteer to provide free organic produce for their students during this time. But again, get permission from the Principal first (and the Principal is likely to want to discuss it with the teachers if it is to be a schoolwide event.)

    For those of you who would like to see your school getting more fruits and veggies into the school day, but who don't have a generous donor to provide them, I want to direct you to a fabulous grant offered by the USDA through the California Department of Education, the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program.

    Balboa High School is one of 25 schools statewide which was awarded this grant for the 2008-09 school year, and despite the fact that the list attached at the site above shows Bal's grant to be around $21,000, in fact it is $54,000, since extra money is avaialble through the new Farm Bill starting October 1st. Balboa students will be receiving fresh sustainably grown local fruit several times a week right in their classrooms, thanks to this windfall. Although schools participating in the program will be allowed to use an expedited process to apply for a second year in 2009-10, that will be the last year that secondary schools can participate. The grant is intended (going forward) for elemntary schools only, and there will be more money and more schools added to the program. I can't urge you strongly enough to check out this grant and apply for the 09-10 school year for your school. I believe the application period is not until spring, so you have some time. Award amounts are based on enrollment, and this year went as high as $50 per student.

    Here is another grant you might look into, which I believe is open now through November. Grant award is $15,000 - that a lotta cabbage!

  25. Why are some of our school meals already not matching the the district school menu?

  26. i will post my thoughts on this issue once i clear up finding a school for kindergarten. please keep checking dana. !

  27. There have been no offical menu changes yet this year; can you provide more details - name of school, the day the menu differed from what was offered, and what the change was?

  28. My heartfelt sympathy and support to those of you who are STILL waiting for a K placement for this year. As I told another reader here, I am so appalled at how the EPC has handled this disaster that I keep expecting the K families to rise up with their pitchforks and flaming torches and storm the EPC offices.

  29. It seems like it would be a good public relations move for Supt. Garcia and the EPC honchos to meet with the families who still are without a school. At some point they need to have some compassion for these families. It seems like a worse year than normal, and it would be nice if someone would step up, acknowledge this fact, and help these folks.

  30. Just a very serious FYI on why EVERYONE needs to fill out that free lunch form. In our school this past year, less than 80% of parents turned in the form and our principal told us we LOST $80,000 AS A RESULT. This was a terrible blow for a school already suffering for having a struggling parents group. Not a pretty site. Don't let this happen to your school!!!

  31. While watching CNN coverage of the Republican Convention, I thought I would do something to counteract that sickening feeling... So I logged on to http://www.sfusdfood.org/cna_main.html thinking I would roll up my sleeves and do some democracy! But lo and behold, the comments were written for me. Really, anyone interested in lending support for school food, just log on and pick your poison -- it's so easy I barely missed any of The Daily Show, without which I certainly would have jumped off a cliff by now.

  32. Really, I can't urge you all strongly enough to PLEASE go to www.sfusdfood.org and click on the banner to tell Congress to put more money into school meal programs. Better food costs more - a lot more! - and the fresh local produce, salad bars, whole grains, and other improvements made to school food mean that costs are higher than ever, and that is coming on top of price increases for milk, and meat, and everything else. When Student Nutrition Services runs a deficit because expenses outstrip government funding for the meal program, the money to cover that deficit comes right out of your child's classroom. Schools shouldn't have to choose between funding kids' academic needs and providing for their nutritional needs.

    As mentioned, at www.sfusdfood.org, there are prewritten letters you can just copy and paste and send, but for those of you who feel comfortable to write your own letter, if you are willing to share it to inspire others, please send me a copy at nestwife at owlbaby dot com, and I will post it on the site.

    Remember, the period for public comment on this closes on october 15th, so please take 5 minutes this weekend and speak up for better school food. Our children will thank you for it for years to come!

  33. 1 pm, I think Garcia is well aware that a few white, middle-class parents are still holding out for spots at schools with more of the same while there are spots available they could fill at any time. This may diminish his empathy.