Our Journey to Transform School Meals: Reflections and What’s Next

Our Journey to Transform School Meals: Reflections and What’s Next

June 20, 2019


California State Senator Scott Wiener, center, joins Lincoln High School students for lunch, along with Student Nutrition Services staff and Executive Director Jennifer LeBarre, left
California State Senator Scott Wiener, center, joins Lincoln High School students for lunch, along with Student Nutrition Services staff and Executive Director Jennifer LeBarre, left

This month marks one year since our Executive Director Jennifer LeBarre joined Student Nutrition Services and we’re taking the opportunity to reflect on our accomplishments and highlight what’s next in our journey to transform school meals.

When Jennifer joined the district, she brought over 20 years of experience in school food. Coming from Oakland Unified School District, where she transformed facilities and oversaw the creation of a central kitchen, she came to SFUSD excited to merge her knowledge of facilities with our focus on student engagement and the dining experience. In the past year, she’s led our team to take on many new initiatives, including the construction of a brand new kitchen, dining space redesigns, and updated menus. Jennifer also aims to spend two days a week at schools gaining insight from students, dining staff and principals on school meals.

Reflecting on this Year’s Accomplishments

We’re recognizing our dining staff. In 2018, a new goal was created under Jennifer’s leadership to Support a Thriving Workforce. She said, “I'm continually blown away by how invested our staff is in this work, and the incredible care and empathy that goes in to eliminating the inequities we're faced with.” Recognizing our work wouldn’t be possible without the leadership, expertise, and historical knowledge of over 200 dining staff, we’ve added culinary professional development including knife skills and new recipe testing, and are planning additional opportunities for the 2019-20 school year. 

We’re rethinking what school dining looks like. Welcoming dining spaces that students enjoy are an essential part of the school meal experience. In the 2018-19 school year, we completed five dining space redesigns. In Fall 2019, six redesigned dining spaces will open, and an additional 12 will open throughout the 2019-20 school year. With new furniture, graphics, and artwork, we’re creating student-centered spaces that reflect each individual school, supporting our goal to create dignified built environments.

Burton High School's redesigned dining space
Burton High School’s redesigned dining space


We’re elevating student voices. Our School Food Advisory (SFA) had it’s most successful year yet, with 18 students participating over the 2018-19 school year. Four SFA students attended the School Nutrition Association Legislative Action Conference in Washington, D.C. They learned about school food advocacy, the inner workings of the national legislature, and visited the Capitol to meet with their representatives. Students presented final projects at an event in May, covering topics from creating culturally diverse school meals to increasing student confidence in the school meal experience. These students are helping Student Nutrition Services gain valuable insight into building a strong school food culture at SFUSD. 

We’re developing student-centered menus. Above all, food must taste good. In every school, we’re constantly creating new, student-friendly and tested recipes. We’re exploring new meal service models such as Grab n’ Go Carts, Vending Machines, Breakfast in the Classroom, and Second Chance breakfast. Through it all, we’ve made great gains, yet there is still a lot of room for growth. We’re working with schools, students, and staff to build on these efforts to create a better school food system and increase the number of students eating and enjoying school meals. Our goal to nourish our students with good food is always our top priority in our journey to transform school meals. 

What’s Next

We're moving towards more freshly prepared food in the district. This summer, construction is under way on the new kitchen at the McAteer campus. The kitchen will serve our Early Education sites, the two high schools on campus (The Academy and Ruth Asawa School of the Arts), and select elementary schools as part of our pilot to create fresh meals in-house and distribute across the district. At our middle and high schools, we're upgrading equipment to prepare more freshly made meals in-house. As facilities are upgraded to prepare and serve fresh food, our procurement practices can improve as well. We can purchase high-quality food and ingredients in alignment with the Good Food Purchasing Program, allowing us to nourish our students with more local and sustainable menu options.

Local, organic strawberry from Coke Farms
Local, organic strawberry from Coke Farms

We’re focusing on sustainability. In the 2018-19 school year, we eliminated straws and are piloting bulk unwrapped utensils as we move towards eliminating plastic wrapped sporks. Through a partnership with Straus Family Creamery, we're piloting local, organic milk dispensers in 6 schools beginning this fall. This milk comes from cows that have regular access to pastures, eat feed free of GMOs, synthetic fertilizers, and chemicals, and are never treated with antibiotics or hormones. We have many more upcoming sustainability initiatives we're excited to share in the coming months, including piloting leftover food donations and tracking consumption to reduce food waste.

We’re grateful you’re here to continue to learn about our ambitious plans to improve the school meal experience and look forward to continuing to share our progress with you. Follow us on Twitter and Instagram for more updates.

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This page was last updated on January 6, 2020