The chicken-fried steaks and canned Spaghetti-Os that oozed over so many school lunch trays in the '80s are conspicuously absent today -- especially in the health-conscious Bay Area.
Today, students in Berkeley enjoy menus prescribed by celebrity chef Alice Waters, complete with organic salads and hormone-free milk. Kids in San Francisco feast on tofu teriyaki with brown rice, seasoned corn, and pasta alfredo.
Schools have taken pains to eliminate trans fats and artificial preservatives and high fructose corn syrup. They're ordering ingredients from local suppliers. They've made $2- and $3-cafeteria meals comparable to dishes at local restaurants.
And now, Oakland has followed suit. Today, the East Bay school district unveiled its new "California Thursdays" program, which will feature menu items from California farms and producers: 5,120 pounds of chicken, 1,850 pounds of rice, 590 pounds of snap peas and 2,050 pounds of strawberries, all grown or raised in California.
District officials teamed up with Berkeley-based non-profit The Center for Ecoliteracy to conceive the plan (appropriately launched on Earth Day), source the ingredients, and teach the cafeteria staff to cook from scratch. They hope to significantly lower the amount of fossil fuel necessary to make a school lunch in Oakland, while boosting the regional economy.
California schools receives $1.9 billion in state and federal reimbursements during the 2011-2012 academic year, with $756 million going to purchase food. A lot of that money could be circulated within the state, says Center for Ecoliteracy co-founder Zenobia Barlow.
She hopes such tasty propositions might entice other districts throughout the state. If nothing else, they might drawn in by the new menu items: roasted chicken with garlic, brown rice with lemon and oregano, fresh fruits and vegetables. Sounds delicious.