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A Revolution in Lunches at Our Local Schools

Walt Disney Elementary, the pilot school for healthy lunches, hosts "Health Awareness Day."

Have you been to an elementary school in the San Ramon Valley Unified School District this year at lunchtime?

If so, you might have noticed some changes in the menu offered to students. Former Executive Chef, Dominic Machi, has been working directly with a wellness committee and district chefs to revitalize the school lunch menu to include homemade items instead of pre-packaged ready to heat foods, which were a part of school lunches for many years.

Mr. Machi notes, “We are cooking more and more menu items from scratch, using fresh ingredients and from local vendors whenever possible. Most of the school district communities did not know we actually cooked in our kitchens. Also, we have revamped the salad bar program and the reaction has really been positive from our students, parents, and education community.”

The proof that these changes have been well received by the school-aged crowd is indicated by the growth in students who buy lunch throughout the school district. As of this week, 84,454 more meals were purchased this year over last. With the introduction of whole grains and freshly made food from a centralized kitchen, children really are eating healthier. Students are also able to tell district chefs the foods they like, and the nutrition department is listening.

Gayla Moghannam, a parent at was the driving force behind this move toward healthier lunches, as she established a Wellness Committee that has spread district-wide. In fact, because of her ability to spearhead these changes, Walt Disney Elementary is piloting an amazing lunch program complete with a full salad bar. There are no cans involved — with fresh fruits, vegetables and even chopped ham and cheeses. 

As a part of this healthy food movement, Walt Disney Elementary welcomed local businesses and community dignitaries on Thursday as children engaged in an entire day of activities centered on healthy living. Mayor Clarkson read books to students about healthy choices, as did district assistant superintendant Chris Williams. 

Local chefs and the district’s own chefs from the central kitchen tested out new recipes in a Food Network style demo, where all children got to sample foods they might not otherwise try. 

Families were invited to submit health recipes, where the winning recipe will be included as a school lunch in the future.

"It is amazing to see so many children eating so many fresh fruits and vegetables at lunch. The kids are really excited about making healthy choices," commented Gayla Moghannam, chair of the Walt Disney's Wellness Committee. "We cannot wait for the chicken noodle soup and turkey chili!" chimed in Gayla's daughter and some friends. Parents were also invited to join their children for lunch, buying a lunch at school, and trying the whole grain entrees and salad bar for themselves.

Disney’s P.E. teacher, Mr. K., led students through exercise activities to maintain a health lifestyle, and each child even got his or her own pedometer to keep. Trainers from came to Health Awareness Day to engage students in ways to energize their bodies and lead healthier lifestyles, too. Martial Arts experts showed children how karate can lead to healthier choices, too.

For students, one highlight of the day was a visit from a real, live, cow, named Ellie, thanks to the California Dairy Council. Plus, a calf made a surprise visit, and all students had the chance to pet the calf. Mayor Clarkson feed the baby calf from a humongous bottle.

Kaiser Permanente also had students riveted in an assembly centering on healthy choices for healthy minds and bodies, in a dance infused extravaganza. A local youth theater company, in operation for 25 years, had four actors teaching children about healthy choices, including limiting television. and video gaming time to no more than 2 hours a day, eating healthier meals, skipping soda and fruity drinks, and reading labels and choosing foods that are not heavily processed. 

Though this was the first year Health Awareness Day took place, those who participated at Walt Disney are hoping it becomes an annual tradition and that other schools join the movement to have healthier food choices, like restaurant style salad bars for children to enjoy as a part of daily school lunches. Keep your eyes open for the new menu coming to your local elementary school, too.

Valerie January 28, 2012 at 02:08 AM
It was a great day - parents, children & teachers all had a wonderful time!
ellen k January 28, 2012 at 05:20 AM
Three cheers to Gayla for driving this healthy initiative forward. What a fun and meaningful way for the school community to celebrate.
Sherry Rosso February 02, 2012 at 08:50 PM
It was a lot of fun - and a great way for the kids to learn a lot about nutrition and fitness! Thanks to Gayla, Central Kitchen, and the school for putting it on!

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