Food Out, Profits in at San Francisco Middle School
Parents Advocating School Accountability, San Francisco,
July 13, 2003
For information, contact: Dana Woldow at
At a time when lawsuits and controversy are shaking up the junk
food industry, a San Francisco middle school cafeteria has
replaced unhealthy menu items with wholesome choices -- and in
the process has become one of the most profitable middle school
cafeterias in the San Francisco Unified School District.
Aptos Middle School’s "a la carte" cafe eliminated junk food and
replaced it with a healthy menu beginning in January 2003.
During the last full month of food sales before the
transformation – November 2002 – the school’s food service lost
nearly $1,000. Within weeks after soda, chips, and entrees like
mega-colossal burgers (58 percent fat), chicken wings (61
percent fat) and hot links (77 percent fat) were removed,
revenues were up. By March, the program had become profitable,
and it finished the year more than $6,000 in the black.
After students were surveyed about favorite choices, the Aptos
café added such popular items as sushi, deli sandwiches, baked
chicken with rice, freshly made soup, salads and fruit desserts.
All drinks with added sugar were eliminated, including those in
vending machines, and replaced with water, 100 percent fruit
juice and milk.
The fear that selling junk food is the only way to make money
has deterred school food operations nationwide from getting rid
of unhealthy food, despite widespread parent concerns about junk
available to their kids. Children’s health advocates, alarmed
about soaring childhood obesity and related deadly health
problems, are pitted against school activities directors raising
money by selling soda and candy.
Yet not only has converting to healthy food increased Aptos’
profits, but the profits also compare favorably with those at
far larger schools. Aptos, with 860 students, generated more
than $2,000 in May, while the district’s largest middle school,
A.P. Giannini -- with 50 percent more students, or 1,280 -- made
less than $90 for the month. Giannini still sells soda and junk
At Aptos, getting rid of junk food also significantly improved
student behavior after lunch and reduced litter, teachers and
administration report. And many parents who previously insisted
on packing their kids’ lunches are relieved of that task,
feeling confident their children’s lunch money will be spent on
a healthy meal.
At Aptos, a committee of parents and faculty overhauled the menu
by scrutinizing every item.
"We tried to make sure that every choice we offered contained
nutrients, not just empty calories," explained Dana Woldow,
chair of the Aptos PTSA Student Nutrition Committee, which
worked with the school district’s Student Nutrition Services (SNS)
Department to develop the new food program. "For example, the
student nutrition director tried to interest us in selling
low-fat chips, but we told her 'no thanks.' What difference does
it make if the chips have fewer calories if those calories are
"It is not enough that our food be less bad for the kids,"
Woldow added. "We want the food to be good for them. Our turkey
and roast beef sandwiches are made with lots of fresh lettuce
and tomato. The homemade soups are loaded with vegetables. All
the juices are 100 percent fruit juice, not 10 percent juice
with added sweeteners. No matter what kids buy for lunch, they
are getting something healthy."
Now the model that brought nutritional and financial success to
Aptos is poised to spread districtwide. In May, a school
district nutrition and physical activity committee recommended,
among other things, that the Aptos model be rolled out to every
middle and high school by fall 2003.
"We must move forward with the healthier choices at all
schools," says Ed Wilkins, the SNS supervisor who worked with
Aptos to develop the program. "It’s the right thing to do, for
The Aptos project has also shown that vendors will adapt to
consumer demand for healthier products. Traditionally, food
service directors buy what’s available, even as they complain
about high levels of fat and sugar. But Wilkins has taken a
pro-active approach. When members of the Aptos Student Nutrition
Committee were concerned about MSG in the sushi that was
otherwise the best available buy, Wilkins explained the problem
to the vendor. MSG was an ingredient in the vinegar used to
season the rice. The vendor switched to an MSG-free vinegar,
solving the problem, and Aptos now carries that line of sushi.
Wilkins also persuaded vendors to reduce the level of fat in
some products to meet guidelines recommended by the district
As a result, kids will enjoy a new beef and cheese piroshki this
fall, and chances are they will never miss the 8 percent of fat
that was removed.
The changes to the Aptos menu originated with the vision of the
school’s new principal, Linal Ishibashi. In a January 2003 memo
to the school’s Nutrition Committee, Ishibashi wrote: "When I
took over as principal at Aptos, my main concern, which sparked
my vision for the school, was that of the disgusting menu
options we were offering. As a parent of middle school children
who have been taught plenty about good nutrition and who hardly
ever watch TV (with its seductive advertisements), I knew that
had they walked into the Aptos cafeteria and seen the Beanery
offerings, they too would be more than tempted to forgo
nutrition for the pleasure of JUNK.
"With the current national epidemic of childhood obesity and
disease, my conscience would not allow me to look the other way.
Our menu options made Aptos part of the problem -- not the
Making Ishibashi’s vision a reality turned out to be easier than
"Lots of people wanted to be involved, but none of us had the
time to attend meetings," says Woldow. "So we relied heavily on
e-mail, holding ‘cyber-meetings’."
One topic that generated lively e-mail discussion was whether
Slim Jim meat sticks should be kept or banished. A web search
revealed that Slim Jims contain not only several forms of sugar
but also something intriguingly called "mechanically separated
chicken" – bits of tissue stripped from poultry bones and forced
through a sieve.
During the committee's unanimous process of deciding to discard
Slim Jims, one parent commented that the product "should not be
served to doggies."
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