It's Elementary | Inside the SCV School Food Services Agency Central Kitchen
Since 1989, the Santa Clarita Valley Food Services Agency has been providing lunches to the valley’s school districts, and Food Services Director Jane Crawford said that their goal has always been to put quality lunches on students’ trays.
The FSA serves schools in the Newhall, Sulphur Springs, Castaic Union and Saugus Union School Districts, for a total of 11,500 lunches each day.
In recent years, the school lunch industry has faced new challenges, Crawford said, specifically because of the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act, which was passed in 2010.
There are now stricter regulations on what can be served to children.
“Under the new science-based standards, school meals are ‘right-sized’ and reflect the appropriate balance between food groups,” according to a USDA summary. “Based on their age, students are getting the recommended portions. In addition to lower-fat dairy and leaner proteins, the new school meals offer more fruits and vegetables at lunch–roughly double compared to the previous standards. Whole grains are also increased substantially.”
The biggest struggle with these new regulations is getting students to eat required foods that they may not enjoy, Crawford said.
“You’re… transitioning from children being able to choose which fruit and vegetable they would like, and now their mandated to take a certain vegetable or fruit,” she said. “…Kids don’t like to be mandated to eat vegetables, not even at the dinner table.”
Crawford also believes that some of the federally mandated requirements are not always feasible or necessary, she said.
For example, according to the current law, 100 percent of the breads and bread products that schools serve must be whole grain by July 1.
Currently, schools are required to serve 50 percent whole grains.
While the FSA does serve a large percentage of whole grain foods, not everything is better with whole grains, Crawford said.
“Anything breaded, or pasta–kids don’t like it.” she said.
But whether or not children like the food being served is only one side of the issue. The FSA also wants to make sure that parents think the meals are worth paying for.
“I think the misunderstanding is that people believe that school lunch is unhealthy, and that isn’t correct,” Crawford said.
As part of a USC class that she is taking, Crawford has created an online survey for parents, where they can comment on whether they choose to have their children eat lunch at school and any changes they would like to see.
Crawford wanted to clarify some misconceptions that parents might have about school lunch programs.
Even before the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act was passed, there always were nutritional regulations that the FSA had to follow.
“We would take our menu and analyze it for it’s nutritional value, and we would have to meet certain standards through USDA,” Crawford said.
She also pointed out that schools in California have easier access to locally grown fruits and vegetables than some other places in the country.
The FSA buys their produce from Ventura, Fresno and Bakersfield.
And whether or not a child receives pre-packaged food at lunch is simply based on the equipment at each school kitchen.
The FSA central kitchen buys its food in bulk and then packages the meals based on which school they will be sent to. No food arrives at the central kitchen pre-packaged, Crawford said.
Ultimately, the goal is to create nutritious meals that appeal to the wide range of ages and opinions throughout SCV schools.
“There’s a lot of taste development that takes place between the time you’re in kindergarten and the time you’re in eighth grade,” Crawford said.
“The food services directors across California are advocates for child nutrition,” she said, “and what we try and do is bring in items that children like, and look at the recipes and see how we can best create those… and still be palatable for a child.”