HBO showcases students rethinking school lunch

Student activism brings about changes to New Orleans’ school meals.

This week HBO began showing a new series, “The Weight of the Nation,” which focuses on the growing obesity problem in this country. As a part of that series, a special kids’ episode was produced called, The Great Cafeteria Takeover. The episode featured a group of remarkable students from New Orleans’ Recovery School District (RSD).

After Hurricane Katrina, many students in New Orleans had to leave the city for other districts to attend class. During their time away from New Orleans, the students said they noticed some aspects of their new schools were different than those in New Orleans. The students formed The Rethinkers to attempt to affect positive change in their district, the Recovery School District.

One of the main issues The Rethinkers took on was school lunch. The group went to schools and talked with students about what they liked and didn’t like in their meals program. Based on those conversations and surveys filled out by students, The Rethinkers created a school report card for each of the surveyed schools. The highest grade for school meals on the first year’s report cards was a B-.

The group, whose motto is “Feet to the Fire,” received major props when the RSD mandated in its contract with Aramark, the district’s foodservice provider, that the company work with The Rethinkers.

The Rethinkers scored a meeting with Aramark executives, including Cathy Schlosberg, Aramark’s vice president of marketing. The students voiced their concerns and began a partnership with the multimillion-dollar corporation. After the sit-down it would have been easy for both groups to say ‘great conversation’ and move on.

But The Rethinkers were persistent. One of the students’ demands at the Aramark meeting was menuing more local produce. The group offered to survey eight schools to find out what local produce the students liked. When the students felt that demand was not being addressed, the students held Aramark’s feet to the fire, and negotiated a signed contract promising that fresh, local produce would be served at least twice a week in the district’s cafeterias.

This is but one example of why FoodService Director selected students as one of our 20 Most Influential.

When I attended school, it was all about getting through the day to my “real life.” Yes, I went to class and attended school functions like Friday night football games and prom, but the thought of a group of students using their precious little free time to work with school officials to work on making school lunch better is not something I think many kids would be willing to do.

I commend The Rethinkers and the group’s advisors for advocating for what they believe in and helping to make positive changes in their schools.

One of the most poignant moments in the episode was when two of The Rethinkers were speaking with a school principal about whether she ate school meals. The principal said she steered clear of the cafeteria at all costs. The principal added that she believed the students would have a much better chance of making changes to the school meal program than she ever did.

Power to the students.

More From FoodService Director

Menu Development
quinoa bowl

In a time of growing health consciousness, it might not be enough anymore for food to be merely filling. According to Technomic’s 2016 Healthy Eating Consumer Trend Report , diners are looking for food with a function, such as those with high protein content, immunity-boosting properties, antioxidants, probiotics and more. The data suggests 63% of consumers see these foods as healthier than those without any specific nutritional function—and would be more likely to buy them.

But are those stated preferences translating on an operational level? There, the answer is less clear. Baby...

Ideas and Innovation
reusable coffee cup thermos

We were inspired by a book titled “Influence” to start a sustainable cup program called My Cup. All 15,000 new students receive a reusable cup with their name on it, which they can use at the dining halls. Personalizing helps them invest in the program and actually use it.

Menu Development
ranch dressing chicken fingers

While salad bars are often the first place K-12 operators look to incorporate more fresh produce, few go as far as making their own salad dressings. But last fall, in a continuing effort to transition from prepackaged meals to an all-scratch menu, Mark Augustine, executive chef of culinary and nutrition services for Minneapolis Public Schools, switched to concocting four varieties in-house—ranch, Caesar, Italian and Asian vinaigrette. The move, designed to eliminate artificial ingredients and lower fat and sodium, presented the biggest challenge when it came to ranch dressing, the school-...

Ideas and Innovation
phone bed call sick

We make people call and directly talk to their boss or supervisor if they are reporting an absence for a shift. While it is more cumbersome, it is a conscious decision. We have adapted and implemented electronic methods to obtain efficiencies in just about every other functional area, except for electronic absence reporting systems. The direct supervisor can put more pressure on an employee to show up—especially those with some form of the “Super Bowl plague”—than any electronic system can.

FSD Resources