PALO ALTO – A pilot program offering organic lunches to elementary school students isn’t as popular as organizers had hoped.
In May, children clamored to try organic food at the Healthy School Lunch Committee’s taste test. But now that pesticide-free and hormone-free macaroni and cheese and other entrees are actually on the menu, hardly anyone’s buying them.
“Things are pretty expensive,” said 10-year-old Christina Lee. Instead of buying an organic cheese enchilada for $2.50 last week, the Ohlone Elementary School fifth-grader picked up a complete regular lunch – a pizza pocket, a box of raisins, a bag of baby carrots, an orange and a carton of chocolate milk – for the same price.
The pilot program was launched at all 12 Palo Alto elementary schools this fall.
Prohibitive pricing, difficulties with distributors, confusion among parents and little interest from kids all have contributed to lackluster sales.
“Nothing has been as we had hoped it would be,” said Jesse Cool, a local restaurateur and one of the leading forces behind Palo Alto’s organic initiative.
The all-natural meals, free from chemicals and genetic engineering, were supposed to cost $4.50 because the entrees would come with organic applesauce and either hormone-free milk or organic apple juice. But those snacks and beverages have yet to be shipped from the warehouses to the cafeterias.
Publicity at schools has remained minimal and many of the lunch menus don’t list the new items, leaving many parents unaware that schools were offering organic alternatives.
No more than seven organic entrees have been purchased on any given day at Ohlone, the school where students grow vegetables on the campus farm and where parents have pushed for the organic lunch options.
The school sold about 100 regular lunches, pizza pockets, chicken patty sandwiches, taco pockets and tuna sandwiches, on one day last week. It also sold four organic cheese enchiladas, but adults purchased three of them.