Some call healthy L.A. school lunches inedible

los angeles, students, lunches, healthy
Some students aren't enjoying the new healthier offerings on the L.A. school district's lunch menus.
CBS News

New federal guidelines aimed at making school lunches more nutritious were announced this past week. It may seem like a welcome trend, but in the Los Angeles school district, many students are calling healthier inedible.

CBS News correspondent Bill Whitaker reports that everything inside one L.A. school cafeteria may be nutritious, but few students have anything good to say about L.A.'s health lunch menus.

"It tastes bad. It looks bad. It doesn't even look like it's real food," said Baleria Franco, a student at Hollywood High School.

"The healthier it gets, the more disgusting it is," said student Kevin Albrecht.

Some can barely describe what "it" is.

"I guess it's like wheat pasta, but it doesn't look like pasta," Franco said.

"It's called a barbecue 'sandwich', but it looks like an imitation Sloppy Joe," said student Marina Sangit.

It wasn't supposed to be this way. For the past ten years, the Los Angeles school district has been working to overhaul the menu. First to go: canned sodas. Then came the push for fresh fruits and vegetables, which today account for nineteen percent of total spending, up from just two percent in 2005.

Old standbys like corn dogs are out and turkey burgers are in - moves hailed by UCLA nutritionist Wendy Slusser.

"It is common sense to serve a child healthy food," Slusser said. "The big question is why aren't we all doing this. And it is because it is a shift, in where we were, and change takes time."

Taking time to change is not something L.A. can afford. School officials say one in three students are overweight or obese. So far, though, its healthy meals are a bust:

"Usually we go to the student store and I'll buy a bag of Cheetos...or like chips, sometimes a Gatorade, yeah," Sangit said.

To woo students back, the district has launched another menu makeover - a tastier menu, it says, now being tested on elementary school kids and their parents.

The verdict on items like hummus and Greek salad: they're "better." It's a reaction parents did not expect, but certainly welcome.

"Seriously, he's shoveling it in. And I've never seen him eat salad at home!" said parent Amy Nairin.

As schools nationwide this week are looking at new standards for nutrition, L.A.'s experience shows that kids will only eat food that's food for them if it's actually good.