San Diego Unified spokesman Jack Brandais ribbed me a little earlier this week: Can’t you do some good news about school lunches for a change?

So I came to the unveiling of the new San Diego Unified lunch choices today at Mission Bay High, where teens from student government groups from across the school district — and a dizzying number of reporters — gathered to test out the new grub. The school district is rolling out more themed lunch carts with a wider variety of options, including turkey focaccia sandwiches, cheese ravioli and penne pasta alfredo.

Kids can pay for the meals with a barcode, which deducts money from their account. Nobody can tell who qualifies for free meals and who doesn’t, which prevents kids from poorer families from being stigmatized for eating lunch. And the carts are also meant to shorten the lines — a factor that had discouraged some kids from getting lunch before.

“I didn’t really eat lunch in the past,” said Samantha Powell, a Mission Bay sophomore who came to try out the new options. She was eating a chicken wrap with lettuce and black beans. “They weren’t really that good. But I think I’ll eat school lunch more now.”

The food sold at the carts is all reimbursed by the federal government, Brandais said. That’s a change from the past, when only the full meals sold in the cafeteria qualified under nutrition guidelines.

Changes like this are making other groups sit up and take notice: San Diego Unified and its food services director Gary Petill recently got a nod from the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine for promoting healthy lunches.


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