Mom versus mystery meat
Fed up with the burgers and sodas taking over her son's cafeteria, Dana Woldow fought to bring healthy meals to middle-schoolers.
The key to enlisting other cafeteria crusaders? Dana Woldow formed a school nutrition committee that met online, which gave busy parents the chance to participate on their own time. Almost all of the group's decision-making happened online, including assigning tasks, voting, and tracking the project's success.
By GreatSchools Staff
A mother of three and school volunteer, Dana Woldow became a cafeteria crusader when her second child, Max, was attending Aptos Middle School in San Francisco. Her efforts to ban junk food from her son's school — and eventually the entire district — earned her a 2007 Jefferson Award for her community service.
Running on empty calories
For many years, cafeterias in San Francisco middle and high schools had à la carte cafes called "beaneries." These cafes offered students a wide array of junk food but no healthy options. Students could choose between such items as hot dogs, cheeseburgers, and chips, and on-campus vending machines were stocked with soda. The principal at Aptos noticed that students would often have chips and soda for lunch.
After a district administrator refused to help integrate healthy foods into the school menus, the principal mentioned the problem to Woldow, who was already very involved at Aptos. She offered to look into the situation. The main objections to offering nutritious food seemed to be bureaucratic inertia and a fear that Student Nutrition Services (SNS) would lose a lot of money if it stopped selling the junk food everyone assumed kids wanted.
Making a change
Woldow went straight to the top. She approached then-superintendent Arlene Ackerman at a public event and asked her to support a pilot program to bring healthy food options to Aptos for the rest of the school year. Woldow promised to carefully track profits and losses so the district would know how such changes would affect its budget. The superintendent's support made it more difficult for other administrators to stall the project.
Next Woldow organized a group of interested parents and got down to business. The parent group surveyed students about what types of healthy food they'd like, and Woldow worked with SNS to ensure that no empty calories were served in the beanery. In January 2003, fresh salads, homemade soups, and baked chicken with rice replaced burgers, pizza, and hot wings. The Coca-Cola vendor swapped out sodas for bottled water, 100% fruit juice, and nonfat milk. And cafeteria profits went up. At the end of the school year, Aptos had made a profit of $6,000, one of only three school cafeterias in the district to finish the year in the black.