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Santa Barbara Unified School District Food Service Director Nancy Weiss Awarded for Healthy Menus

Santa Barbara Unified School District has won a national school lunch award for serving exceptionally healthful meals to 7000 students in 28 locations.

The nonprofit Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine will award Director of Food Services Nancy Weiss a Golden Carrot Award and a $500 cash prize Oct. 13, 2015, to mark the start of National School Lunch Week.

The program stands out for serving entirely made-from-scratch meals free of artificial ingredients and preservatives, providing colorful salad bars stocked with fresh and local produce in every school, offering a daily vegetarian entrée, maintaining working school gardens and rotating healthful mobile food trucks to high school campuses. 

Typical meals served in Santa Barbara schools include vegetarian four-bean chili with freshly baked corn bread, grilled veggie burgers layered with locally grown vegetables and hummus on whole-wheat rolls and fresh fruit smoothies made with California-grown beets, strawberries and oranges. 

It’s a stark contrast from the program Weiss inherited in 2008. Back then, Santa Barbara schools served only "heat-and-serve" meals made with heavily processed foods.

Upon her arrival, Weiss partnered with the Orfalea Foundation to overhaul the cafeteria, eliminated all nutritionally empty foods and replaced them with fresh, local ingredients. 

As a former chef and restaurant owner, Weiss draws upon her passion for healthful eating and her business skills to serve restaurant-quality meals to her students. 

The once faltering program, which operated $200,000 in the red prior to Weiss’s arrival, now thrives financially.

Since 2010, the program has made a profit every year and now operates fully in the black. Approximately 50 percent of students qualify for free or reduced lunch. 

“With constant news stories about student plate waste and 70 percent of school meal programs struggling financially to comply with school lunch mandates, Santa Barbara is an inspiring model for how we can make healthy school lunches work," said Physicians Committee dietitian Cameron Wells. "They’re proving that it’s possible to serve nutritious meals that students will love and still make a profit. 

“Plus, these disease-fighting eating habits provide a lifelong return on investment for students by reducing their risk of obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and certain forms of cancer,” she said. 
Santa Barbara’s success is a group effort made possible by enthusiastic staff members who join students in the cafeteria and model healthy eating habits.

Through the “Salad Bar Ambassador” program, even students join the effort, encouraging their peers to sample fresh produce.

The “Harvest of the Month” program promotes seasonal Santa Barbara-grown produce through lessons in the classroom and samples on the salad bar.

This October, students are celebrating pumpkins and apples.

At the high school level, biology teacher Paul Cronshow, known by students as a “whole-foods, vegetable eating maniac,” highlights the connection between nutrition and health, engaging students with green smoothie demonstrations and cooking lessons.

Weiss sums up SBUSD's Food Service Program with her own personal motto that she passionately preaches, "Eat to live, Live to Learn, and Learn to Eat!”

— Laura Anderson is the communications coordinator for Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine.


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