Summer school students break for lunch at the Police Activities League Tuesday. A new state law went into effect July 1 banning trans fat from food served to students. Santa Monica schools have already banned the artery-clogging fat. (photo by Benjamin Brayfield)

SMMUSD — Where kids once hid from boogie monsters in their closets or ghosts under their beds, today they’re being protected from a real threat — trans fat.

July 1 marked the beginning of a state-wide ban on trans fat in all food served in public school lunches via vending machines or outside contractors. The bill was passed two years ago but gave schools time to make preparations. Another bill passed around the same time limits carbonated beverages.

In all, three different bills now govern the types of food that can be served in public schools — SB 80 bans trans fats and restricts fried foods, SB 12 limits foods sold in vending machines and SB 965 limits the distribution of carbonated beverages.

The Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District began implementing these new laws last year to ensure they were meeting food standards ahead of schedule.

“We stopped frying at the beginning of the 08-09 school year,” said Orlando Griego, director of food and nutrition services for the SMMUSD.

After the bill banning trans fat was passed, Griego said he began to work with the school district’s manufacturers to make sure no trans fat would be used in food. The cafeterias also began to bake products, such as French fries, instead of offering fried goods.

“It was actually very seamless for us because most everything that we offer, the manufacturers were already working very hard to make sure there were no trans fats to be begin with,” he said.

Trans fats have become known as “bad fats” because they become hard and build up in arteries, increasing one’s risk of developing heart disease, said Dorothy Bernet, a registered dietitian at Healthy by Design Nutrition Specialists on Broadway.

“At first we didn’t know they were bad for us, but it’s just as bad as saturated fat,” she said.

Instead of using trans fats, Bernet suggested using saturated fats found in olive oil, nuts and avocados. Trans fats, she said, are most often found in processed and packaged food and avoiding these is the best way to limit trans fats in a diet.

Griego said he has been in contact with the vending machine companies to make sure they understood the laws and began complying starting July 1. The sale of carbonated beverages at Malibu and Santa Monica high schools also ended as of July.

Santa Monica’s compliance with these bills is all part of the school district’s wellness program, which includes nutritional information for all school lunches and a Farmers’ Market salad bar alternative to the daily hot lunches.

Though the lunches are low in calories and fat, they are still made to appeal to children. Lunches during the first week of June, which had a combined five-day caloric value of 704, included meals such as corn dogs and “baked potato smiles,” cheese pizza and “Brunch for Lunch” with French toast, sausage and hashbrowns.

Summer school programs at Samohi, Lincoln and John Adams middle schools and Grant Elementary will be the first to test the full effect of the bills. Either breakfast or lunch is provided to students who participate in the four-hour summer programs.

The school district also sponsors and provides a lunch program for the Police Activities League to ensure kids are receiving at least one healthy lunch a day during the summer. These lunches consist of the same food found in the schools and are held to the same nutritional standard.

PAL serves about 45 complete meals a day, which consist of meat, a side dish, fruit and milk, said Coco Johnson, PAL lunch coordinator.

Johnson said she has yet to hear complaints about the lunches and the chicken nugget day seems to be the most popular among the kids.

“It’s all right,” was the general sentiment about the food from PAL participants.

Haile Samoya, a 10-year-old who recently graduated from Will Rogers Elementary, said he likes the food but he gets tired of eating pizza once a week.

“My mom used to be a chef so I think at home it’s better,” he said, munching on a potato wedge and sipping his chocolate milk.

Others, like Vladimir Lee, who also attends Will Rogers, eat the PAL lunches every day during the summer.

“Fast food would be a lot more fatty,” Lee said as he bit into his hot dog.

Some schools will soon have the chance to ease the preparation of these lunches. The district recently received a grant for $65,340 to go toward new cafeteria equipment.

As a part of the grant, preference was given to schools with at least 50 percent of children eligible for free or reduced-price meals. Will Rogers was the only Santa Monica school to meet this qualification, but Griego nominated several schools and said he has yet to hear which of them will receive portions of that money.

He said the added funds will go toward updating old or ineffective kitchen equipment and purchasing machines that are more energy efficient.

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