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This post originally appeared in Presley's Pantry food blog.

I don’t usually drive an hour and a half out of my way in the dead of heat to visit a high school cafeteria. That’s exactly what I did last month when I was invited to come to Arlington High School in Riverside. The Riverside school district is being labeled “The New Heros of School Lunch Cafeterias.” What does that mean exactly? I was so curious myself and had to find out.

On July 1, 2012 new standards governing the nutrition level of food served in the United States schools went into effect under the 2010 Healthy, Hunger Free Kids Act. This is where Rodney Tyler comes in, Rodney is the Director of Nutrition Services, Riverside Unified School District ( They are the 15th largest school district in California).

This man had a vision and wanted to change the way kids were eating in his district by presenting them with healthy food options, and at the same time get the district out of the 3.1 million dollar deficit it was in. He incorporated salad bars in his schools, he started buying produce (veggies and fruit) from local farmers, put a ban on foods coming out of a can in his cafeterias… fresh was the new motto, and then he hired Chef Ryan Douglas from a nearby university to come and create and oversee all the food. This was a completely different approach. People snickered and told him his plan of healthy eating would not and could not work, but Rodney just kept his goals insight of making a better lunch meal and changing the perception of school foodservice. One of the first things he incorporated to entice his students to come and eat in the cafeteria was start daily bar-b-que. He had big grills built and to this day fires up the grills about 30 minutes before the students are released for lunch. This gets the students excited about coming out to eat. It tempts them for a good 30 minutes with the aroma of bar-b-que by smelling up the campus and makes them feel like there is a celebration going on in the cafeteria. When that bell rings, the students are met with grilled bar-b-que chicken and cheeseburgers fresh off the grill (pictured at the top). Can you imagine?

Then he realized if his district was ever going to overcome child obesity they would need to address a few issues. He noticed that many of the students were unable to identify fruit in it’s natural form, but could tell you the name of canned fruits once they were chopped up. With this being a serious problem in his eyes, he decided to not only tour local farms with students but start buying local produce for the pupils to eat everyday.

When he hired Chef Ryan Douglas he asked the chef to introduce food items you wouldn’t traditionally find in a school. Ryan took that to heart and stated preparing salads and fruit platters right away. Ryan also just finshed filming a 6 episode series for the WIC program where he is teaching parents to feed their families at home on a tight budget, but still make it healthy and simple.

Yes. The Riverside School district are the New Heros of the lunch cafeteria, not only did they manage to break all the rules and introduce an awesome healthy menu to their students…. but they were also able to prove to those who thought serving healthy food and climbing out of debt at the same time couldn’t be done…. they went from a 3.1 million dollars deficit in 2002 to paying it off and now sit in 2012 with a 5.7 million dollar reserve! Raise your fork to healthy eating and Riverside!!!!!


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