South Gate students enjoy new cafeteria and healthier food

South Gate students open their Kool Kitchen. (Jacqueline Garcia/The Opinion)

Photo: Jacqueline Garcia / Impremedia

In celebration ahead of the much-anticipated Super Bowl LVI game where the Los Angeles Rams will take on the Cincinnati Bengals, students at South Gate High School, known as the home of the Mighty Rams, also celebrated their own touchdown on Thursday.

The school received an upgrade to its school cafeteria that features an updated menu that has added more nutritious foods like Smoothies and all-natural fruit bowls.

This is the first of five “Kool Kitchen” transformations of Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) school cafeterias, which will help address food insecurity.

Julissa Mendoza, a student at South Gate High School, said the food at the school is good but so far nothing extraordinary.

“Now with this richer food we feel like they are watching us out there. Before it was like there was preference in other schools, but now they are looking at our school and they are helping us”, said the 11th grade student.

He added that although the new cafeteria might seem like a regular thing for the students, it is actually a great help as they are benefiting their eating quality with nutritious food.

His colleague Ariel Barrios had the opportunity to try the smoothies and fruit bowls and assured that both were delicious.

The 12th grader said that while she won’t be enjoying the new cafeteria and healthy food for long, she is glad her classmates will benefit.

“It’s going to be very different food than what they give us,” Barrios said.

Healthier foods are expected to increase student participation by 10% to 15% and help local high schools serve more school meals to students each year.

Funding is through a $250,000 donation from Frito-Lay and GENYOUth’s End Student Hunger Fund program.

The fund has been tasked with helping schools across the country safely provide school meals to students during the COVID-19 pandemic.

A recent GENYOUth survey of more than 1,000 school nutrition professionals revealed that student hunger and food insecurity remain a vital concern.

Hunger disproportionately affects children from low-income and minority families, making the crisis more urgent among Black, Hispanic, urban and rural youth.

South Gate students with Orlando Pace (c) open their Kool Kitchen. (Jacqueline Garcia/The Opinion)

Advocating for nutritious eating

LAUSD Interim Supervisor Megan Reilly said the five benefit schools are South Gate, Narbonne, Manual Arts, Monroe and North Hollywood.

“LA Unified serves nearly half a million meals each day, including breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks,” Reilly said. “On Fridays we include extra meals for the student weekend.”

Reilly added that thanks to the GENYOUth organization in partnership with Fritto Lay, the Kool Kitchen initiative will combat food insecurity within schools by allowing students to access nutritious school meals in a more welcoming environment.

“When these improvements are implemented, and they are already, schools will experience meal share increases of up to 15%. The Kool Kitchen program is projected to help participating high schools serve more than 1.2 million meals to students per day,” Reilly said.

Shortly before seeing the renovated cafeteria, the students had the opportunity to meet former National Football League (NFL) player and considered a legend, Orlando Pace. The player assured that when he was a high school student, food was something very important to him, because he was tall and robust since he was young.

He recalled that he himself has very good memories of his school cafeteria, of the ladies who served the food and especially those who always put “extra” mashed potatoes on his plate.

“That sense of community at my high school really meant something to me,” said Pace, who didn’t let go of the fact that his cafeteria didn’t have delicious smoothies like the ones at South Gate High School.

She added that as a professional athlete, she learned the importance of eating healthy foods to help fuel the body.

“It is well known that if you put garbage [a tu cuerpo] you take out garbage So I think later in life, I learned the importance of trying to eat a balanced diet. And they are being provided to you here at the school. So you should make the most of your ‘Kool Kitchen’ and what it will offer you here.”

As the students wait for the Los Angeles Rams to take first place in the Super Bowl this weekend, they said they are glad that as one of the first schools with a Kool Kitchen, the South Gate Mighty Rams are already winners.