Eat REAL is excited to announce San Luis Coastal Unified School District (SLCUSD) is Eat REAL Certified! Located in San Luis Obispo County, SLCUSD is the second district to achieve certification at the Silver level. Led by Food & Nutrition Services Director Erin Primer, the entire team is dedicated to making school meals nutritious and empowering for all their students. They are focused on bringing a cultural shift to the school food world, using their learnings as the foundation for systemic change in California.
Eat REAL’s mission is to empower school districts nationwide to make food delicious, nourishing, and climate-friendly. Our evidence-based certification program requires a district to undergo a points-based assessment of its program against Eat REAL’s ten standards. These standards evaluate different areas of nutrition, sustainability, and overall transparency. A district must meet a set of minimum requirements and earn a 60% or higher score to become certified. A score of 80% will earn the district certification at the Silver level.
In creating their food service program, Primer and her food and nutrition services team take full advantage of their location in a highly agricultural region. They care deeply about their communities and work to serve the students as much of the fresh and hyper-local food they are surrounded by as possible. Primer shares, “We prioritize fresh, real, healthy school meals that taste great, and our Eat Real Certification process helps us articulate those values and what we stand for in the foods and ingredients we source and serve at school.” The department sources as much as 30% of their produce from small to mid-size farms and hosts regular student “taste tests” to learn about new ingredients and the farms that grow them.
These ingredients are the base of their diverse scratch-cooked menus introducing students to new flavors and cultures through school lunch. Some favorites include the Thai basil lentil burger, red lentil dal over coconut lime rice, and overnight oats. Whole, plant-based meals have become fully integrated into their regular menus and are no longer just a dietary alternative but noted favorites among the student population.
As a pioneering food service program in California, SLCUSD partnered with Eat REAL to obtain data, guidance, and support to bring understanding to their broader community. The assessment summarized their work in a meaningful way for their students, staff, and parents and prioritized focussed changes with significant impacts.
Added sugar became an eye-opening part of the district’s Eat REAL journey, driving a significant sugar reduction across menus. The food service team at SLCUSD will now be offering lower added sugar breakfast options, including low-sugar cereal and savory breakfast items, such as a breakfast burrito. The district also worked closely with local favorite, Edna’s Bakery, to develop a low added sugar, whole grain chocolate chip muffin. The new recipe removes over 7g of added sugar per serving!
“San Luis Coastal’s dedication to their students and their community can be seen in the food they serve in the cafeteria every day,” applauds Nora LaTorre, Eat REAL CEO, “They demonstrate what innovative farm-to-school and scratch-cooking can look like and will be the model for many years to come for school districts throughout the country.”
The staff at SLCUSD is constantly looking toward the future. With every new initiative, Primer and her team ask, “how do we make this scalable for others?” She hopes to take her learnings to provide a model for other school districts in the region to learn from and implement these practices to influence statewide school meal programming. Upon certification, the team at SLCUSD continues to focus on a continuum of improvements using the lens of the Eat REAL standards. Please help us celebrate their certification and all they do to advance school meals in their communities and beyond!