Vegetable Medley. Photo by Frey Gardens.

Food In Schools

Over 30 million children eat school lunches every day. The food schools serve and how schools use their significant buying power can affect the health of children and families.

Oakland Unified School District

Oakland Unified School District

Rethinking School Lunch in Oakland: Comprehensive School Meal Program Reform to Increase Equitable Access to Healthy Food, Establish Career Pathways in Sustainable Agriculture, and Improve Local Food Systems

Urban school meal programs present a significant opportunity to implement food systems reform strategies that both increase a vulnerable population’s access to nutritious food and support agroecology. This case study examines the partnership formed between the Oakland Unified School District (OUSD) and the Center for Ecoliteracy (CEL) to implement Rethinking School Lunch Oakland (RSLO), a systems change effort addressing food access, health, educational, environmental, and social issues simultaneously through school meal program reform. Implementation of RSLO presented many financial, social, and political hurdles.

This study examines OUSD and CEL’s individual and collective responses to these challenges faced in the implementation of comprehensive school food system reform, the progress of incremental programmatic changes under RSLO, and the processes used by OUSD and its partners to determine how to best implement the multiple facets of RSLO. This research will offer an analysis that can inform and educate other school districts interested in attempting similar change, potentially having significant implications for urban food systems reform and school lunch programs nationally.

This project is funded by the Berkeley Food Institute Seed Grant Program.

Research Team: 

  • Malo Hutson, Associate Professor, City and Regional Planning, UC Berkeley
  • Jason Corburn, Professor, City and Regional Planning, UC Berkeley
  • Moira O’Neill, Lecturer, City and Regional Planning and Law, UC Berkeley
  • Christyna Serrano, PhD Candidate, Education, UC Berkeley
  • Zenobia Barlow, Executive Director, Center for Ecoliteracy
  • Jennifer LeBarre, Executive Director, Oakland Unified School District

San Francisco Unified School District

San Francisco Unified School District

Technology and Design Innovation to Support 21st Century School Nutrition

Improving dietary intake among low-income youth is critical to reducing obesity and improving student health, and schools are arguably the most important system in which to intervene. Most school-age children in the U.S. spend half of their waking hours and consume up to half of their daily calories in school. Increasing participation in school meals is critical for addressing social inequities related to healthful food access, given that lower-income children are most likely to participate in school meals.

San Francisco Unified School District (SFUSD), the UC Berkeley School of Public Health, and the Nutrition Policy Institute are partnering to study innovative student-centered strategies that could improve students’ dietary habits and reduce plate waste in schools. With a $1.2 million grant from the USDA, the SFUSD/UCB/NPI partnership is studying SFUSD’s efforts to improve students’ dining experience through a 3-pronged intervention:

  • Renovations to dining spaces
  • The use of distributed points of sale for school meals (vending machines and mobile food carts)
  • Staff promotion of school meals

The evaluation includes measuring school meal participation and plate waste in 24 middle and high schools (half of which will receive the intervention initially), combined with surveys of students, staff and teachers. Results are expected in 2019.

UC Team Members: