Advice about School Lunches

Parent Q&A

  • Advice on cafeteria food in our school district

    (3 replies)

    I am on a mission to begin the change of the AWFUL food our kids receive in the elementary schools in the SRVUSD school district.  I have heard that Berkeley has done a fantastic job ridding their kitchens of junk and filling it with healthful foods for the children.  Can someone help to inform me where I can begin the process of raising our standards?  I would love to know who supplies their food, if it's cooked fresh on site, menu planning, and touring any of the top ranked school cafeterias in Berkeley would be awesome!  If a parent wouldn't mind sharing with me the name of their school that has a cafeteria they are proud of, it would be a huge help and get the ball rolling.  Thank you so much for any advice.

    AWFUL is not the word for it.

    Glad someone is doing this.  At our kids' schools the district contracted with Round Table pizza, Taco Bell, Subway, Burger King and other chains to provide the meals.  NPR had a story where someone like you rallied the parents and got the school district to hire a gourmet chef.  He tossed out the prepared foods and served meals that would be served in 4-5 star restaurants.  Fresh breads, Brussels sprouts, butternut soup, broccoli and other healthier meals.  The kids liked the food so much they were asking for it at home and lost some weight.

    Hope you can do it.

    I don't know how to start the process of changing your own district's standards, but if you're interested in Berkeley's school lunch (and breakfast) program, here is a good place to start:  http://www.berkeleyschools.net/departments/nutrition-services/   As you can see from the website, the district does a good job of serving much healthier food than many districts.  I have been present in the cafeteria during lunch (I have 2 kids in BUSD elementary schools) and have seen the food in person and it looks very appetizing.  There is also a salad bar available.  In addition to lunch, the district provides a (cold) universal breakfast for all kids, regardless of need.  The lunches for elementary schools are made in a central kitchen at King Middle School, so if you find a contact there, that would be a good place to see the BUSD school lunch program in action.  Unfortunately my kids don't like most of the offerings so our family rarely buys the school lunches.  In a perfect world, there would be more parent engagement to discuss what healthy food kids will actually eat, but I think that the BUSD is doing a good job with limited resources. 

    here's a youtube video about the Berkeley School District lunch program:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CUbq-DfjJSY

    also check out the conscious kitchen which is a new program that has been implemented in a few schools in Marin county:

    http://www.consciouskitchen.org

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Making sure 1st grader gets vegetarian school lunch

Sept 2012

Hi everyone... Just curious what the school lunch policies are at your schools regarding vegetarian children. I just found out my 5 year old has been getting meat everyday... Needless to say, I was furious and the office staff, nor food services cared!

The office staff said it is the child's responsibility to request a vegetarian lunch option, which I was never told!! None of the paperwork said ''your child must request a vegetarian option''. During back to school night, the principal had every parents attention and never mentioned it. On all of the paperwork I received from the school it never indicate this. I put vegetarian option as her dietary need so I (stupidly) assumed she would receive a vegetarian meal. We are new to oceanview this year and to the school district. Her last school in the UK had a flag come up next to her name when she gave the staff her name at the lunch line. She said her name and it flagged her as vegetarian, so that is what she got.

I just feel as though it is the schools responsibility AND the food services responsibility to TELL PARENTS TO TELL THEIR child that the child needs to ASK for a vegetarian option, they will not automatically be given vegetarian by requesting it on paperwork. I really do not feel that the office staff has the child's best interest in mind. On the first day of school, my daughter was put in her first grade class (as we had requested and was approved for by the district prior to enrollment).

The staff saw her age on the FIRST day of school and removed her from the class, without telling me or calling the district first to verify. They took her out of the class I had just settled her into and put her in the kindergarten class. Would I really not know what grade she should be in?? Because she started school early in the UK at 4 and had finished kindergarten, we put her in 1st.

I am hoping this is just a hurdle we have gone through because I did not communicate to my daughter that she needed to ask and it is not an indication of what things will be like the rest of the year. But I am anxious to hear how this food situation is handled in other schools. I will not be telling my daughter she ate meat, it would devastate her as her pure little body has been veg her whole life!!! mumof5


My experience has been, if you want to control your child's diet at school in any way, it is best to send lunch from home. I suggest you consider that. Karen
Hi, I'm so sorry this happened to you and your daughter. That's terrible and as a vegan mom with two vegetarian children, since birth, I really feel for you. I would be deeply upset. I was really concerned that this would happen to my children especially when they were in preschool or early elementary. They were too young to take responsibility for their food and I feared they would accidentally consume meat given to them by adults. To my knowledge this only happened one time.

We occasionally use soy meats that look something like their meat counterpart. Would my children know that a hot dog at school was a meat hot dog and not a veggie one? That those pot-stickers that look like our veggie version really had pork in them? What about all those school parties? Would anyone be looking out for them to ensure they weren't served meat? Would there even be veggie options available to them? How about at friends' houses? It's a minefield out there! Those years were really stressful to me.

I know this may not be the best option for you, but I decided to skip the cafeteria and instead pack lunch every day. Once you get into the swing of it, it isn't so bad. This way I know my child is getting a veggie lunch and that it will be healthier than the cafeteria food. For school parties, I usually send something extra to make up for the fact that my veggie kid will have less choice.

My kids are 8 & 10 now and I've started to relax. They can look after themselves for the most part. I still make a point of telling all their friends parents so they can help with this too.

Back to your specific situation, I would absolutely write a letter to the district, to the principal, to your child's teacher and to the food service provider. What happened is NOT acceptable. I look at our ethical vegetarianism and veganism in the same vein as a religious belief and feel that it must be respected in the exact same way. It's not a negotiable item and it's not right for people to disregard your wishes. What if this had been a life-threatening allergy? The powers that be need to be more responsible and can not put it all on a young child. Good luck. Vegan Mom