Oakland Unified School District Nutrition Services
General Information Food Service Operation
Oakland Unified School District (OUSD) serves approximately 37,000 students at 65 elementary schools, 17 middle schools, four special programs, 14 high schools, and 11 alternative education schools. Oakland Unified School District Nutrition Services (OUSDNS) provides meal service through the National School Lunch Program for 107 K-12 schools. OUSDNS offers lunch at all schools, breakfast at 94 schools, and after school snack at 75 schools. At these schools approximately 6,500 breakfasts, 27,000 lunches, and 10,000 snacks are served each day. Four elementary schools are recipients of the Fresh Fruits and Vegetable Program which provides free fresh fruit and vegetable snacks to students.
Nutrition Services has approximately 300 employees providing services to the students and staff at 91 cafeterias (some cafeterias can provide service to two to four schools). Sixty-eight percent of the district’s student population is eligible for free or reduced priced meals and 87 school sites have 50% of more of their students eligible for free or reduced priced meals. OUSDNS annual budget is close to 15 million. OUSDNS is self supporting, there are no contributions from the district’s general fund. Under the direction of Nutrition Services Director Jennifer LeBarre OUSDNS strives to create a world class nutrition services program that is recognized in the State of California.
Elementary school lunch cost $2.25 and middle and high schools are $3.00.
In addition to serving school breakfast, lunch, and snacks OUSDNS runs the following programs:
Healthy Foods - Menu Planning and Salad Bars
Menu planning is based on the following cycles: secondary schools follow weekly cycles, elementary follows a three week cycle, and breakfast is on a two week cycle. Meal planning is based on traditional food based planning rather than a nutrient based model and offer vs. serve is utilized. Ten elementary schools are piloting a “Cooking Kitchen” menu which offers more “in house” prepared items.
Salad bars operate in 56 schools and pre-packed salads are offered in other sites. Salads are prepared with four-six vegetables and four-six fruits offered. Half or more of these fruits and vegetables are fresh rather than canned. Additionally, fresh fruits and vegetables are offered a la carte in all grades in the lunch line and during snack times.
OUSDNS serves a model to other districts the following are just a few of the steps they have taken to enhance their school food program:
Sourcing and Buying Produce
Over 90% of fresh produce is purchased through the distributor Fresh Point. The remaining produce is purchased directly from growers, collaboratives, or through a broadliner.
OUSDNS has defined a preferred local buying region as within the nine bay area counties, a secondary preference is defined by a region from Fresno to Northern California, and thirdly California as a whole is defined. As Fresh Point continues to label their source of produce OUSDNS is able to better understand where the produce they source comes from.
An exciting collaboration with the East Bay Asian Youth Center called Oakland Fresh has brought 12, once a week farmers markets on to school sites. This program works with eight local farmers and Jennifer sees this as a means to source more from local growers.
Food Preparation and Serving
There are 91 kitchen facilities in OUSD and only 25 of these are fully functional. About 73% of school food is prepared through commissary systems – centrally prepared chilled and distributed to satellite kitchen sites for heating and serving. There are two central kitchens which prepare 73% of OUSD food. When produce is cooked stir frying and steaming are the most popular methods of preparation.
Jennifer estimates that 100% of fresh fruit is served raw and of that 75% of fresh fruit is served whole. 80% of fresh vegetables are served raw versus cooked and rarely served uncut.
Jennifer states that about 80% of produce production is done at one of three central kitchens while the other 20% is done in site kitchens. There is a lack of equipment for produce preparation and Jennifer has Buffalo Choppers (rotating bowl chopper) on the top of her produce preparation wish list. Additionally more cold storage and prep surfaces are needed to adequately prepare fresh fruits and vegetables. Jennifer states that thirty more salad bars are needed to assist in the serving of more produce at her schools.
Farm to School, Promotion, and Nutrition Education
With a district as large as OUSD, collaboration is essential to implement farm to school and nutrition education. Below is a summary of some of the more prominent partners supporting school wellness:
Alameda County Public Health Department Nutrition Services provides nutrition education in 36 school sites which includes Harvest of the Month along with themed interventions such as The Importance of Breakfast, and Soda Free Summer. There are 30 cooking carts that are used for nutrition promotion.
Oakland Eats Garden Fresh is joint venture of OUSDNS and Alameda County Public Health Department Nutrition Services which links the cafeteria to the classroom. Classroom programs on seasonality are reinforced with local produce served in the cafeterias. Students also receive materials on reasons to by local and a list of farmers markets. The Oakland Eats Garden Fresh logo is branded on menus and other promotional materials.
OUSDNS and collaborators participate in the HEAC (Healthy Eating Active Communities) project which measures the success of meal program improvements coupled with nutrition and physical education.
The Oakland School Food Alliance is a parent-led advocacy group committed to healthful school food that works to direct policy that supports healthy school food change.
As means to connect with local farmers, provide access to fresh produce to the Oakland community, and as a potential local produce source OUSDNS has partnered with the East Bay Asian youth Center to create the Oakland Fresh School Produce Markets. These school based farmers markets are ran weekly by parent volunteers, and in addition to bringing farm fresh produce and goods to the city, they offer nutrition education and cooking demonstrations. Currently twelve schools host weekly farmers markets and there are plans to add an additional thirteen schools.
OUSD has a teacher on special assignment to support school gardens. There is a school garden council and about 60 school gardens in the district. The school garden support professional assists teachers to use gardens as nutrition education instructional tools and serves as a liaison among school administrators, facilities staff, and educators.
OUSDNS has also contracted with the Community Alliance with Family Farmers to help organize stakeholders and create a plan for farm to school programming. Additionally OUSDNS is a part of School Food Focus which is a national organization working towards improving school food in larger school districts, and currently OUSDNS is working with researchers at UC Davis to analyze and create sustainable produce procurement models
OUSDNS has well developed and maintained website that is used for communications of their stellar work in school nutrition. Additionally there is an informative monthly newsletter produced by OUSDNS.
Under the direction of Nutrition Services Director Jennifer LeBarre OUSDNS strives to create a world class nutrition services program that is recognized in the State of California.
Though the large size of the district, minimal kitchen infrastructure, and tight budgets provide challenges to OUSDNS, the district has taken great strides to change school food. Jennifer recognizes the importance of Farm to School for OUSD. In her words, “Increasing the availability and consumption of fresh produce is one of OUSD’s top priorities. Purchasing fresh fruit and vegetables locally makes sense. It will have a tremendous impact on the nutritional quality of the produce while keeping our money local and stimulating our economy.”
Jennifer mentioned that she wants every meal she serves to be something that she would feel good to serve her own child.
A committed Nutrition Services Department, strong community collaborators, and a supportive school administration all serve to create a bright outlook for the goal of being an exemplary school food service program.