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El Monte City School District Responds to Demand to Fuel Students’ Bodies and Minds

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El Monte City School District lies about 20 miles east of the heart of Los Angeles, California. Many of its children are first-generation Mexican Americans, and 91 percent of the children participate in the free- and reduced- price lunch program.

With such high poverty rates affecting the 10,000 children within its 14 schools, Nutrition Service Director Robert Lewis knew that combating the hunger issue would take much more than a couple of tweaks to the district’s school meal program.

He re-vamped breakfast and after school meals and snack programs, as well as implemented the USDA’s Fresh Fruit and Vegetable program.

Many of El Monte’s children stay at their schools until after 5 pm, participating in after school activities and athletic programs.  The district offered an after school snack of milk and fruit, but with children playing soccer and other rigorous sports, the snack wasn’t enough. Parents sent additional—and not always healthy—snacks with the students.  Furthermore, only 30% of the students were participating in the snack program, and the district was receiving about $0.80 reimbursement per snack.                   

Instead of getting rid of the program due to low participation, El Monte strengthened it. They brought in food vendors and asked students to participate in taste testing. Staff used the Alliance for a Healthier Generation’s Product Navigator as a guide to buying nutritious products that met USDA nutrition standards. Now, instead of having an after school snack, 95% of the students who stay after school enjoy an after school meal in a “grown up bento box.” They munch on hearty foods, such as hummus and carrots, raisins and sunflower seeds, turkey pesto wraps, and chicken ciabatta sandwiches, meals that carry a $2.93 reimbursement.

Lewis said, “Kids LOVE them! We don’t have leftovers anymore, and with such high participation and a higher reimbursement from the state, our revenue went way up.”

In fall 2013, Lewis also started a district-wide breakfast-in-the-classroom program (BIC) program for elementary schools and a grab-n-go breakfast program for middle schools. Bringing breakfast to all of his district’s students has eliminated the stigma that came with participating in the program. Before the program was implemented he had a 30% participation rate; now more than 90% of his students participate in it. Everyone is eating a healthy meal, regardless of socio-economic status.

El Monte’s school meal program strategies are wins across the board: win for the teachers who now teach better attentive students, win for students who do not have to come to class or go home hungry, and win for the district that has seen astounding boosts in participation and revenue.   

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Many schools within the El Monte City School District have received national recognition from the Alliance for a Healthier Generation. Read and see more about El Monte’s nutrition program.