Capistrano Unified working towards Eat REAL certification to help kids build healthy eating habits

By Ryan Burris, Chief Communications and Engagement Officer, Capistrano Unified School District

Capistrano Unified School District (CUSD) Food & Nutrition Services has partnered with Eat REAL, a non-profit organization that helps school districts increase access to nutritious, delicious and sustainably-sourced foods for the health and wellbeing of students and the environment. In 2021, CUSD was one of six California school districts to be selected as part of their current cohort. And, CUSD is the first school district in southern California to be selected for their certification program.

The Eat REAL Certification is a two-year process where CUSD’s meal program is measured against Eat REAL’s ten standards. The voluntary assessment and certification process goes above and beyond the federal regulations and is made up of ten standards measuring 34 key performance indicators including use of minimally processed foods, sustainable sourcing and seasonality, animal welfare, antibiotic use sustainability, fresh produce, transparency, waste reduction and management, and more. The goal at the end of the process is to become Eat REAL Certified.

To start, Eat REAL performed an extensive analysis of CUSD’s menus, products, and operation in the fall and winter of 2021.

The Eat REAL analysis found CUSD excelled in the following areas:

• Promoting and offering a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables.
• Training all staff to promote the selection and consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables.
• Limiting par-fried and deep-fried menu items.
• Serving some menu items with minimally processed ingredients.
• Offering a variety of menu options including plant-based options.
• Recycling and implementing food waste reduction strategies.
• Building trust through menu transparency and having a strong wellness policy.

CUSD can continue to improve in the following areas:

• Reduce added sugar on breakfast and lunch menus.
• Increase the use of minimally processed ingredients across menus.
• Increase the purchase of animal products that meet one or more of animal sourcing criteria.
• Increase purchase of local produce, including from small to midsize farms (organic when possible).

CUSD is currently in the Action Plan phase. During this phase, CUSD will make changes to the school food program. Examples of specific actions that have been implemented:

• Removing the Uncrustable Peanut Butter & Jelly Sandwich from high school lunch menus in an effort to reduce added sugar.
• Highlighting California grown and seasonal produce on menus and Instagram account, CapoFood.
• Highlighting dairy products made from cows not treated with rBST on menus.
• Highlighting chicken products made from No Antibiotics Ever chicken on menus.
• Purchasing new grass fed regenerative beef products from sustainable, family owned farms in California. A special beef patty was added to the elementary lunch menu last fall and a special organic beef hot dog was added to the elementary lunch menu in December.
• Purchasing a new locally baked whole wheat bun from Artisan Bread Bakery.
• Creating Capo Crunch, a monthly newsletter with elementary menu updates, wellness tips, nutrition knowledge, and more.
• Highlighting menu specials and local produce on secondary menus.

Over the next several months, CUSD will focus on sourcing local produce and purchasing animal products that support animal welfare and the environment. A final program assessment and report will be due to Eat REAL in the winter and spring of 2023 before certification will be awarded.

Follow Food and Nutrition Services on Instagram (@CapoFood) for updates on the program and visit the Food and Nutrition webpage (capistrano.healtheliving.net) for information on current job openings.

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