Natalie Portman recently wrote to John E. Deasy, Ph.D., superintendent of the Los Angeles Unified School District, congratulating him on LAUSD’s 2011 Golden Carrot Award.

School cafeterias across the US are ditching the mystery meat and serving up fruits, vegetables, and healthy plant-based meal options. It’s National School Lunch Week, and the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM) has announced the winners of its 2011 “Golden Carrot Awards” for innovation in school food service. The grand prize went to the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) Board of Education and Superintendent John Deasy.

“I was thrilled to hear about the Los Angeles Unified School District’s revamped lunch menu,” wrote Natalie to John Deasy. "As a new parent, I love your district’s emphasis on healthy meal options and nutrition education. By serving healthy menu items like fresh salads, avocado wraps, and black bean burgers, you’re helping students develop a taste for nutritious foods. But you’re also making sure students understand how food affects their bodies so they’re more likely to bypass the cheeseburgers and put healthful items on their trays.

“I’m worried about my son’s generation. Childhood obesity has hit a record high, and experts say that one in every three children born today will develop diabetes in his or her lifetime. But I’m also hopeful that we can reverse these terrible trends. That’s where parents and school officials come in. We need to work together to help our children develop healthy eating habits.

“Schools play a critical role. They can help teach children healthy behaviors—and they can also support these behaviors on a daily basis by providing more fruits and vegetables and other healthy foods, along with opportunities for physical activity.

“That’s why I’m joining the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine during National School Lunch Week to congratulate you on your new menu items and healthy school lunch campaign. I hope schools across the country look to you as they work to improve their own cafeteria offerings.

“Thank you again for helping kids stay healthy.”

PCRM established the Golden Carrot Awards in 2004 to recognize food service professionals doing an exceptional job of improving the healthfulness of school lunches. PCRM looks for programs that encourage kids to eat lots of fresh fruits and vegetables and that offer plenty of vegetarian, low-fat, whole grain, and nondairy options. If a student chooses a plant-based meal option even once a week, he or she can reap important benefits. A veggie burger, for example, is similar in protein content to a hamburger. However, while the hamburger has 15 grams of fat, the veggie burger has only 5 and contains almost no saturated fat or cholesterol.

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