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Phila. School District receives 'C' on school lunch report card

The district serves high-cholesterol items like Philly cheese steaks and rarely offers vegetarian entrees, according to the report.

The Philadelphia School District ranked below average in a national report card on school lunches released yesterday.

The report, done annually by the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, analyzed elementary school meals at 22 districts participating in the National School Lunch Program. It assessed whether districts go above the federal guidelines to serve healthy school lunches.

This year's report focused on two essential areas for children's nutrition in schools: obesity and chronic disease prevention, and nutrition and healthy eating initiatives. The average grade is a B, or score of 84, up from 78.7 in 2008.

Philadelphia received a score of 75, finishing 17th out of the 22 districts. The district received positive marks for its farm-to-school program, along with cooking classes and school gardens at select schools, but received poor marks for offering very few vegetarian and vegan entrees, serving processed meat such as ham and offering Philly Cheesesteaks.

"The critical point was in the opportunity to serve plant-based, low-fat options to kids. They only had one [vegetarian entree] per week or sometimes two. And then that one option tended to be high in fat because it included a lot of cheese,” said Susan Levin, director of nutrition education at PCRM.

Levin suggested that the district, which participated in the report for the first time since 2003, increase high-protein foods like beans, and continue nutritional education.

"We do see some positive things in the school district, like the gardens and cooking education, but if we could just clean up this menu a bit for elementary school kids that would put them in the 'A' range," she said.

The district did not respond to a request for comment.

Pinella County Schools in Florida received a score of 100, a first in the report card's eight-year history. The most improved district was Washoe County in Nevada, which jumped 22 points from 66 in 2008 to 88 this year.

 
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