Oakland struggles to improve school lunch program

High free and reduced rate makes implementing change difficult.

June 29—Over the past few years, Berkeley, Calif.’s school district has made national news with its school lunch improvements. Now, Berkeley’s neighbor Oakland is trying to get a food revolution going, too. The Oakland Unified School District serves about 6 and a half million meals per year. This volume makes the task of overhauling the school food system a daunting one. While Berkeley’s school district has 9,400 students, with about 40% qualifying for free or reduced lunch, Oakland Unified has 38,000 students, with over 70% qualifying. At some schools, this number is over 90%.

District-wide, Oakland schools serve about 9,000 breakfasts per day, 21,000 lunches, 8,500 snacks, and now 500 suppers. Given this high demand, Oakland’s school district recently undertook a study on how to improve its Nutrition Services department, responsible for school meals. The report, a partnership with the Center for Eco Literacy, recommends facilities improvements, fresher and more organic ingredients, and the construction of a large central commissary with an organic farm. In a district where many students eat up to five times a day at school, these are big issues.

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University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minn., has replaced a fajita bar in one of its dining halls with a superfoods bar, Tommie Media reports.

Aiming to provide more options for athletes and students with dietary restrictions, the new bar offers diners a choice of protein with a variety of toppings, such as beans, fruit, couscous and quinoa.

The superfoods bar has made a few appearances on campus since it was first tried for the school’s football players last summer.

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A large part of menuing allergen-friendly cuisine is deciding which gluten-free items to serve.

In particular, college dining hall operators must decide whether to make gluten-free items in-house or to order gluten-free items from a manufacturer. Some factors to consider are: the size of the university, the demand for gluten-free options,and the ability to have separate gluten-free storage and workspaces in the university dining hall kitchen.

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Reading Hospital in West Reading, Pa., is using robots to help deliver patient meals, BCTV reports.

The eight robots, named TUGs, will be used to transport meals from the hospital’s nutrition services department to patient floors at Reading HealthPlex for Advanced Surgical & Patient Care.

Moving at three miles per hour, the robots will follow preprogrammed routes to the HealthPlex, where room ambassadors will remove room service carts from the TUGs and deliver them to patients. The TUGs will then return to nutrition services with dirty dishes for cleaning.

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Sodexo has partnered with fast casual Blaze Pizza to offer the chain’s signature pizzas, salads, beverages and desserts at select venues served by Sodexo, including colleges and universities.

Bill Lacey, senior vice president of marketing at Sodexo, said that Blaze’s growth in the fast-casual sector drove the partnership. Blaze opened its first unit in 2012 near the University of California at Irvine. Its pizzas are flash fired, cooking in under 180 seconds, according to the chain—a selling point for busy customers.

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