In this New York Times video, Mark Bittman visits a middle school in San Francisco to learn about a new initiative that aims to engage kids to eat more healthful meals.
Watch the video and say whether the statements below are true or false.
1 The way young people eat is important for their health and their future.
2 There is a statewide food pilot programme in San Francisco schools.
3 Before the programme, those students who paid got better foods.
4 The canteen where students have their food looks very much like any other canteen.
5 Students have the option to rate the food they eat.
6 Ham is an ingredient in the lunch the reporter tries.
7 The project in San Francisco is part of a national study.
8 In some schools students can't get their lunch served lunch before they have to go back to class.
9 All schools in San Francisco will adapt this programme next year.
10 The reporter thinks money might be a problem for the implementation of the programme.
It's back to school time and that includes me, too, as I continue my appointment with the University of California. For most kids, this means rising early, homework, and yes, cafeteria dining. School lunches were never considered fancy fare, but these days we're not only talking about better choices in school lunches, we're talking about food justice and social equity issues. But no matter how you look at it, one thing is clear, if we want to raise healthy people, helping shape the way members of future generations eat is paramount.
At Roosevelt Middle School in San Francisco there's a pilot program whose aim is to figure out ways to make school food an enjoyable experience for all students, citywide. Zetta Reicker, who directs the San Francisco Unified School District's Student Nutrition Services, walked me through a bit of the background behind their new project, called The Future Dining Experience.
Historically, we had kind of a one size fits all for our meal program. We've been making changes over the last 10 years. We eliminated a la carte and competitive food so all students have access to all meals.
So before that, if you paid you got better foods than if you got a free lunch?
I wouldn't say better food, but different. You had more choice if you had cash and that's not really in line with our goals around social equity.
But it's not just about providing kids tastier, nutritious food, it's about the whole experience like the actually comfortable lounge we're sitting in.
Students, they want to have their senses stimulated and then…
…they don't want to have the food thrown at them.
Yeah. They want to feel connected to food, and so the dining space redesign found that students wanted to have a space to do activities. Having a dining space that was just institutional, all the same tables, wasn't fitting their needs. We are also implementing what we call distributed deliciousness, choice through distributed points of service and a different variety of meals, say a grab and go cart, maybe a sandwich or a wrap, things that can be eaten on the go. We are developing a smart mail app, where students can provide input. But we definitely want them to be able to rate the food, give feedback.
Speaking of feedback, Zetta had me sample some of their menu items.
I'm just a fan of free lunch, so…
Yes, absolutely. Especially when it's delicious, free lunch. So this is the chicken pizza party salad.
Lettuce, grated cheese, chicken.
And tomato sauce.
Yes, and it's antibiotic free chicken.
Good for you.
And your sourcing has been OK? Talking and eating at the same time isn't that easy for me.
I know it has been a little bit more challenging this year, but we're still able to do it and keep within the contract price.
It's really great. Congratulations. That's really good.
Yeah, we're very proud.
This all looks and sounds great, and the food wasn't bad either, but can it really work? That's where Kris Madsen comes in. Dr. Madsen, of the UC Berkeley UCSF Joint Medical Program, is leading a study to evaluate the project.
We come in and we overlay a scientific evaluation that will hold water with other schools, other districts, both locally, across the state, and even across the nation. And we look to see what really happens? Do kids change their dietary habits? I mean, do they actually eat more fruits and vegetables? Does their diet improve? Can we decrease plate waste in the schools? So how can we get kids to feel like this is my choice, this is what I want, and therefore I'm eating and I'm eating all of it?
A big question, too, is can this really be used to get the school to improve stuff per the kids desires?
What really drives their behavior, convenience is huge. So have you ever been in a high school during lunch?
Well, not for many years.
Not for many years, right? The lines are out the door, so kids can't even get their meal before the bell rings to go to the next class. So what if you could get your food in a hallway, a mobile cart that sold hot food and you could pick it up and then eat with your friends out in the quad? How do you make the easy choice the healthy choice?
So when is this starting?
The school that we're in today, Roosevelt, is one of the pilot schools. We'll tweak it based on what kids say and then next year is when it gets rolled out into 12 schools. And we'll continue to monitor because we want to see what happens in the real world.
I'm interested in the real world, too, so I joined two students for a meal from a mobile cart to see what they thought.
I like the food here a lot.
They just picked you because you were going to say that.
No, actually it's really good.
Yeah. This is food that I would make at home.
It'll be interesting to see how this turns out and if it's socially and financially sustainable because really, anything that can be done to improve kids' nutrition and increase their awareness of our food system should score high marks.
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