A little while ago the LA Unified School District embarked on an ambitious plan to get rid of junk food in its schools and replace it with healthier fare. Kids participated in tasting sessions, and only stuff that passed teenage muster was added to the menu. So how’s that working out?
For many students, L.A. Unified’s trailblazing introduction of healthful school lunches has been a flop. Earlier this year, the district got rid of chocolate and strawberry milk, chicken nuggets, corn dogs, nachos and other food high in fat, sugar and sodium. Instead, district chefs concocted such healthful alternatives as vegetarian curries and tamales, quinoa salads and pad Thai noodles.
There’s just one problem: Many of the meals are being rejected en masse. Participation in the school lunch program has dropped by thousands of students. Principals report massive waste, with unopened milk cartons and uneaten entrees being thrown away. Students are ditching lunch, and some say they’re suffering from headaches, stomach pains and even anemia. At many campuses, an underground market for chips, candy, fast-food burgers and other taboo fare is thriving.
The experiment is only a few months old, so maybe with a bit of tweaking everything will turn out OK. So far, though, it looks like kids don’t react any better to having their habits forcibly changed than any of the rest of us.