SLO schools plate local produce, protein for student lunches

Posted at 6:50 PM, Sep 07, 2018

Students in the San Luis Coastal Unified School District are pairing their pizza with locally sourced peppers, buffalo cauliflower and cherry tomatoes.

Timothy Inglish, the district’s chef, plans to use herbs and greens grown on a hydroponic farming tower that the district obtained through a grant.

This school year is the first time Inglish will use the plant tower, but it’s not the first time the district is teaming up with local farms and ranches to feed kids healthy meals.

"If I’m cooking beef tacos, we use a local beef from Paso that’s grass fed and free range," Inglish said.

Buzz words like free range, grass fed, and local are typically found on placards at the farmer’s market, but they’re now appearing in the school lunch room.

"We think it’s important to know where our food comes from and help our kids know more about that," Erin Primer, the district’s food service director, said.

While the school still must follow federal school lunch standards, like offering the five foods groups, primer said each district can decide where the food comes from.

"It’s amazing, we really do forge relationships with local farmers throughout Arroyo Grande, Santa Maria, even up north in Cambria we get good avocados every year," Inglish said.

These young, notoriously picky eaters actually dig in.

"(I eat vegetables) all the time, whenever I have cafeteria food," Dylan Shaouat, an 8th grader at Laguna Middle School, said.

"They’re healthy for you and they taste good," Shaouat’s classmate, Nico Di Santo, said.

Laguna Middle School, where Shaouat and Di Santo attend school, is the central kitchen for the district, producing meals for 15 schools.

It’s in the Laguna Middle School kitchen where the healthy pace is set each day.

"For us it’s really about participation, how do we get more kids to want to eat a school meal," Primer said.

More participation equals more funding, meaning more opportunities in the lunch room and the classroom. 

With tools like the hydroponic planter used to provide fresh produce and as a learning tool for kids in science class, their hunger for learning grows right alongside their appetite for lunch.