Chula Vista, CA School Pilot Program

Walnuts are a Star in California Cafeterias

In January 2018 Sweetwater Union High School District in Chula Vista, California served nearly 17,000 meals featuring California walnuts. The students loved them, stating they were “so good” and refreshingly “different” from the foods they’re used to getting at school.

The California Walnut Board partnered with the district for the second Walnuts in Schools Pilot Program. Serving more than 42,000 students from a diverse background, Sweetwater Union High School District tested bulk and individual one-ounce packets of California walnuts at breakfast and lunch across 23 schools.

District nutrition leaders used their creativity and culinary know-how to modify family-sized recipes from the California Walnut Board for their students – including vegan and vegetarian options. Eric Span, Director of Nutrition Services for the District, commented on the value of being able to offer different protein sources to students.

“Serving California walnuts allowed students to try something new. Some students and families are vegan or vegetarian, so it is important to include options for them.”

Prior to a district-wide rollout, a student panel gave the dishes their stamp of approval. “Our students loved eating California Walnuts,” Span said. Nearly 83% of student taste testers would eat walnuts again if served in their school.

walnuts at chula vista lunches

Walnuts were featured four times per week throughout January in all the district’s schools.  At breakfast, students prepared for the school day with Chunky Monkey Yogurt Parfait and Cinnamon Walnut Casserole. During lunch, Honey Walnut Kung Pao Chicken and Crisp Apple Walnut Salad fueled students for the afternoon.

Individual one-ounce packets were tested on the salad bar and in grab-and-go boxes, like the Hummus Bistro Box. The district served 7,200 one-ounce packets of walnuts during the pilot program.

meal from sweetwater school
Walnut meal in schools

It's safe to say that walnuts were a hit!

Students enjoyed walnuts without incident. Food allergies are managed on an individual basis in the schools at Sweetwater Union High School District. Along with signage, students are shown which menu items contain allergens and what to look for in the cafeteria. The California Walnut Board is committed to helping schools safely and successfully incorporate walnuts on their school menus.

“I would definitely recommend serving walnuts in schools to other school foodservice professionals. Walnuts are a heart-healthy* plant-based protein with good fats and provide nutritional calories, rather than empty calories students could be getting at other points in the day^. They introduce students to different flavors that they may not experience at home, creating healthier food choices for life,” said Eric Span.

View School foodservice recipes, resources and tips for using walnuts in schools here.

*Supportive but not conclusive research shows that eating 1.5 ounces of walnuts per day, as part of a low saturated fat and low cholesterol diet, and not resulting in increased caloric intake may reduce the risk of coronary heart disease. One ounce of walnuts provides 18g of total fat, 2.5g of monounsaturated fat, 13g of polyunsaturated fat, including 2.5g of alpha-linolenic acid, the plant-based omega-3.

^One ounce (or ¼ cup) of walnuts provides 190 calories, 4g of protein, 2g of dietary fiber, 18g of total fat, 2.5g of monounsaturated fat, 13g of polyunsaturated fat, including 2.5g of alpha–linolenic acid — the plant-based omega-3.

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