PAUSD implements updated nutrition guidelines


On Feb. 3, the Biden administration proposed new public school nutrition standards that aim to reduce sugar and sodium content in school meals. Some changes at Gunn include limiting certain high-sugar items and serving more locally sourced options.

During the COVID-19 lockdown, PAUSD and many other school districts faced food supply issues. According to School Board President Jennifer DiBrienza, they were partially caused by new laws that mandated schools to provide free lunch to all students, forcing them to turn to prepackaged items.

Although sugar content in school meals increased as a result of supply chain shortages and the subsequent transition to prepackaged items, the district is now incorporating locally sourced food options through increased grant funding. “One of the challenges in providing free and reduced lunch was sourcing food,” DiBrienza said. “Every school district in the state was suddenly serving more students, so there have certainly been times that levels of sugar content and processed foods have been higher than we wanted.”

Under the Biden administration’s new guidelines, public schools can no longer offer more than 20% of refined grains or large amounts of high-sugar foods. Furthermore, sodium levels need to be below 2,300 milligrams for students who are 14 and older.

While current PAUSD meals already comply with these changes, the district has also implemented its own guidelines, eliminating the following items from being served due to their high sugar contents: juice, craisins, lemon and banana bread, UBR cookies, Benefit bars, Mini Cinnis and strawberry bagels. Sophomore Nithila Subramanian noted how her and her friends will miss certain items. “I feel slightly disappointed,” she said. “I have a friend who really loves them so she’ll probably be really upset.”

DiBrienza, however, noted that not all high-sugar products will be eliminated. “Because it is a new federal regulation, the folks producing the food are working on reducing the sugar content and how processed it is because they want to sell it to school districts,” she said.

Furthermore, PAUSD is creating more stringent restrictions to transition out of prepackaged COVID-19 meals, which were heavily reliant on sugar and refined carbohydrates. Because the district hires an external company, Sodexo, to provide meals, the major changes will occur in Sodexo’s meal production process. DiBrienza attributed the school board’s choice to contract Sodexo to its relatively healthy choices and reasonable prices. According to Food Services Director Alva Spence, students can expect healthier food options in the future.

As of April 2023, half of the school meals are made from scratch, and menu items such as the Cara Cara oranges
and spring mix are locally sourced. Although most of Gunn’s food is currently prepared at Palo Alto High School and then reheated at Gunn due to ongoing construction, the kitchen facility that is currently being built will provide new opportunities for food services to implement changes, according to Spence. “I can’t tell you how excited our department is to get (the Gunn) facility finished,” she said. “To have the facilities and equipment and to be able to (create healthier meals) will really send it into a whole other level.”