Celebrating School Meals for All at Los Angeles Unified School District
In 2021, the Center for Ecoliteracy successfully advocated for California to become the first state to adopt universal school meals as a co-sponsor of the Free School Meals for All Act. Beginning this school year, all public school students in California are offered two free meals each school day. We gathered with fellow School Meals for All co-sponsors and state leaders to celebrate the landmark policy at the state’s largest school district, Los Angeles Unified School District.
First Partner Jennifer Siebel Newsom, State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond, Los Angeles County Supervisor Hilda Solis, Los Angeles Unified Superintendent Alberto Carvalho, Senator Maria Elena Durazo, Assemblymember Luz Rivas, Assemblymember Miguel Santiago, and Kat Taylor held a roundtable discussion with parent leaders. Parents shared how vital the free meal program is to their families. Superintendent Carvalho said, “A hungry child cannot learn,” and recognized that serving all students free meals reduces stigma.
The Center for Ecoliteracy’s California Food for California Kids® initiative builds the capacity of public school districts to provide students with fresh, locally-grown food and reinforce connections between the classroom, cafeteria, and garden. Los Angeles Unified is one of over 100 school districts in the network and is the largest district in California, serving over 600,000 meals each day. For Manish Singh, Director of Food Services, this work is about supporting the whole child. “If students are well nourished, they will be ready to learn,” he said.
Following the roundtable, state leaders toured the Liechty Middle School kitchen, where fresh meal preparation was underway, and joined students for a healthy school lunch of kung pao chicken with broccoli and rice, berry smoothies, and fresh fruit, including persimmons grown in California’s Central Valley.
After lunch, the student body president from Esperanza Elementary led First Partner Jennifer Siebel Newsom on a tour of the school garden “habitat” in downtown Los Angeles. Students equipped with binoculars shared how they study native plants, insects, and birds during their school day. The day ended with a student-led tour of the cafeteria, where students were enjoying fresh chicken drumsticks, salad with cucumbers, and more persimmons!
Cafeteria manager Rosa Garcia said, “I've always believed children should be offered a free meal on a daily basis, no matter what. I’ve worked in different areas and seen children go through the trash. It breaks my heart. So now that all children have free meals available, it makes me very proud to work at the school.” Thank you to Los Angeles Unified for hosting this important gathering and showcasing the incredible potential of school meals.
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