EMCSD Students Provide Food Feedback at CA Nutrition Conference
36 students from El Monte City School District middle schools were invited to give meal feedback at the 70th Annual California School Nutrition Conference in Pasadena. Students from Columbia, Durfee, Gidley, Potrero, Rio Hondo, and Wright became members of the 2022 Student Mini Council, a student-led subset of the state’s Nutrition Advisory Council (NAC).
In what was described as, “the best field trip ever,” EMCSD students toured various vendors at the Pasadena Convention Center, taste-testing everything from dill pickle infused chicken tenders to make-your-own protein bowls and breakfast corn dogs. At the end, students were treated to brand new “allergy-free” dessert options designed to give all students an opportunity to enjoy healthy desserts, worry-free.
Students were greeted by NAC leadership and the California Department of Education’s School Nutrition Programs Director, Kim Frinzell. “It’s not school nutrition unless kids eat and we love student engagement because their feedback helps our meals be the best possible”, explained Director Frinzell. This school year, California became the first state to implement a statewide Universal Meals Program for school children focusing on providing adequate breakfast and lunch to ALL school children. “Universal Meals is not only about breakfast and lunch for every student regardless of eligibility, it’s also about quality, fresh, local foods that we want access to [to provide] nutritious and delicious meals.”
Excitement for student involvement was a common theme throughout the conference, especially from EMCSD Director of Nutrition Services, Jenny Lee. “I’m so thrilled that we were able to have our students participate in such an integral part of the school nutrition process,” said Ms. Lee. “There were only 120 student spots available on the Nutrition Advisory Council and we filled 36 of them. I strongly believe that if we want to provide the best meal opportunities for our students, then they need to have a seat at the table where their thoughts and suggestions are accounted for.”
EMCSD is building different opportunities to get direct feedback from students and parents in regards to school nutrition. They are launching a brand new Nutrition & Wellness Committee that will include staff, parents, and students where Ms. Lee and her team can showcase new meal items, get feedback, and develop action plans in partnership with school communities. In addition to the committee, Nutrition Services will be sending different meal items to campuses along with surveys so students can get an opportunity to diversify their pallet and help shape menus moving forward.
The conference was a huge hit with students. Gidley seventh grader Sadie Williams was happy to know that the state wanted students' perspective on meals, “If students’ thoughts on the food are not pleasing then they are not going to eat, so this is the best way to get real opinions.” Students did not shy away from honesty, confidently showing their displeasure or joy after tasting an item. Overall, they are excited to have an influence on future menus, one saying, “we know what we like, so it’s nice to have our opinions heard.”