By Keira McNamara
Capistrano Unified School District was recently honored for its Eat Real certification — the first school district in Southern California to receive the certification.
In order to obtain the Eat Real certification the CUSD menu was thoroughly assessed using the nonprofit organization’s 10 evidence based standards. CUSD spent two years working with the Eat Real team to implement changes and add more real food to the menu. CUSD serves over 42,000 students.
“We’ve always been very particular about what we purchased for our program. Now we’re looking at it in a more locally driven fashion than we were before,” stated Kristin Hilleman, Executive Director of CUSD Food and Nutrition.
The district is “working with Orange and San Diego County farmers and bakeries to bring in fresh baked bread and different local and organic produce to our program,” Hilleman said.
Undergoing the Eat Real certification process helped take CUSDs food services a step above other districts, she said.
“The certification is just a signifier that Capistrano really values nutrition and they’re doing everything that they can and bringing in the right partners to help make a significant shift,” said Natalie Linden, Chief of Staff at Eat Real.
“Improving the nutrition of the food that we serve kids improves their health,” said Linden. “It improves their ability to learn. It has positive effects both on their physical health and on their mental health. Ultra-processed foods have been linked to things like obesity, type 2 diabetes, ADHD, anxiety, and a lot of the things we worry about in our kids.”
As part of the certification, CUSD has achieved some incredible milestones. The district effectively removed 10 pounds of sugar per school year from its menus by removing juice from middle schools and high schools. CUSD serves grass-fed, organic beef provided by Cream Co., as well as certified humane chicken products from Mary’s Chicken, and other antibiotic-free turkey and chicken products. Milk products are also sourced locally and certified humane.
Hilleman explains that CUSD worked with a student organization called The Earth Based Club to bring more plant based and vegan items to Aliso Niguel High School. CUSD plans to take the club’s favorite menu items and introduce them throughout the entire school district.
CUSD has received feedback from parents and students about the menu changes. The district intends to keep striving for greatness and use the certification as a building block for improvement.
“American public schools are the largest restaurant chain in America,” Linden said. “They are larger than Starbucks, Subway, and McDonalds combined. They serve 7 billion meals a year. So the way we think about this at Eat Real is that if we can shift those meals we can shift the trajectory of children’s health.”
Eat Real currently supports over 600 schools and 360,0000 students, helping school districts improve up to 129 million meals per year.