Cafeteria dishes up farm-to-table lunch menu

Patricia Yadao, Staff Writer

California Thursdays has launched an innovative way to bring locally-grown California food to California kids, and Lodi is one of the 15 school districts to take the first bite.

Thursdays mark the calendar for a statewide “farm-to-table” movement that features one goal: to serve food that is fresher, healthier and more delicious. Part of LUSD’s original mission was to provide nutritional meals from local produce farms, but the new program exposes students to a whole new level with the entire meal sourced from local, fresh ingredients.

The Center of Ecoliteracy, a Berkeley-based nonprofit dedicated to education for sustainable living and a pioneer in school lunch reform, is heading the initiative. To promote the ideas, Bear Creek cafeteria staff will be decked out every Thursday wearing “California Thursdays” merchandise.

“I think it’s fun; they send us shirts and buttons to promote California Thursdays,” Cafeteria Supervisor Becky Octave said. “It is nice to know that we are supporting our local farmers.”

In an effort to improve the quality of food that goes into lunch menus, the program emphasizes the value of providing both healthy and appealing choices while students learn about where their food comes from. Not only does using locally sourced ingredients stimulate the local economy, fruits and vegetables transported from closer distances require less packaging and are ProGreen.

The initiative has been highly praised because the program keeps taxpayer dollars within the local economy of the state of California rather than spending the money elsewhere.

On days besides Thursdays, the food comes from various distributors including Bimbo Bakeries, Crystal Creamery, General Produce, Sysco Foodservice, Schwan’s Food and Lodi’s District Warehouse. Sysco, in particular, delivers a variety of products from Tyson, General Mills, Quaker and County Fair. On Thursdays, Sysco is the primary distributor which sources California-grown products and delivers them to Lodi schools (along with Don Lee Farms Beef from California, Teasdale Beans, In-Harvest Rice, Miller Hot Dogs.)

“It will give students from our district a chance of creating healthier lifestyles for themselves … hopefully changing the stereotype of high school lunches,” junior Grace Maina said.

The kickoff for California Thursdays began on October 23 at Tokay High School with the LoCal Fiesta Bowl and soon
other Lodi schools joined the movement. Thursdays are known as California Thursdays Taco Bar, featuring “build your own” LoCal Fiesta Bowl. The bowl consists of a layering of rice, beef, black beans, olives and cheese.

Locavore Day
“It’s no Chipotle, but I liked it!” senior Deon Tran said. “I’m no health expert, but if it tastes healthy and it looks good, I’m satisfied.”

The winter menu features “Build Your Own Hot Dog Bar” featuring Miller’s Hot Dogs from Lodi on a whole grain rich bread. According to its website, Millers offers products that are gluten-free with no trace of MSG. They only use the finest of their 100-year-old secret recipe showcasing premium cuts of fresh pork and beef.

“The hot chili cheese dogs were really juicy and sweet,” junior Matthew Ricafrente said, chewing happily.

Students’ propensity for eating fattening and sugary lunch snack favorites such as Hot Cheetos, Powerade and cookies are addressed in booths sponsored by UC Cal Fresh during California Thursdays, where students can learn from healthier options that could lead to avoiding clogged arteries.

“That is what this program is about: it’s incorporating fresh local fruits and vegetables beyond the salad bar,” cafeteria worker Laura Dodge said. “We encourage a healthy diet including at least three out of five of your grains, fruits, vegetables, protein and milk.”

California Thursdays promotes awareness of the bountiful harvest California has to offer. Making a change for one day links a generation of kids to positive connections within their communities such as places, people and practices that foods come from.