Nearly One-Third of California

Schools Now Offering
California Thursdays Meals
Made from California-grown


BERKELEY, CALIF., October 25, 2018… Today, 19 school districts joined a growing statewide movement to offer freshly prepared school meals featuring California ingredients as part of the California Thursdays® program.


     Since the Center for Ecoliteracy introduced the California Thursdays® program five years ago, school districts searching for ways to improve their meal programs have been attracted to the Center’s concept of menu items that capitalize on California’s enormous and varied bounty of fruits, vegetables, and meats. Over 3,000 public schools are now part of the California Thursdays Network, which today celebrated with special events and meals throughout the state.


     For students, that means fewer “heat-n-serve” dishes made with processed ingredients; for local economies, it means getting a boost from local spending; and for educators, it means better nourished students who are ready to learn.


     California public schools serve over 1 billion meals each year, and now the California Thursdays Network represents 33 percent of that total. Serving healthy, local food generates major wins for the state: improved student health and readiness to learn, economic benefits for California farmers and local food producers, reduced environmental impact, and having students learn where their food comes from and how it reaches the table. Plus, food service staffers take immense pride in serving freshly prepared meals made with student-tested recipes.

A Growing Model for the State and the Nation


        The California Thursdays program is predicated on the simple logic that California children will benefit from eating fresh, California-grown food. The program’s organizer, the Center for Ecoliteracy, recognizes that freshly prepared meals made with local ingredients are more likely to appeal to students. This theory was proven in the first year of the program, when districts reported a 13 percent increase in school lunch participation on days featuring California Thursdays meals.


     “Whenever food service staff prepare fresh locally grown food made from California Thursdays recipes, children devour it,” says Zenobia Barlow, executive director of the Center for Ecoliteracy. “That alone is a victory. Properly nourished children are healthy and ready to learn.”


     Building on student and staff support, California Thursdays has grown at a rapid clip. What began with a single school district in 2013 evolved into a program with 15 school districts in October 2014 and has now expanded to 89 districts in 33 counties statewide. Collectively, the California Thursdays Network represents 3,195 schools, with an enrollment of over 2 million students, and thousands of staff who serve over 334 million meals a year. Every year, more and more of those millions of meals feature California-grown food.


     “California Thursdays is a great first step in celebrating all that California agriculture has to offer,” says California Department of Food and Agriculture Secretary Karen Ross. “It brings awareness to the fresh, wholesome, and seasonally appropriate bounty of our great state. If we feed our children good healthy food, and if we connect them back to the places, the people and the practices that reveal where our food comes from, I think we're going to have great decision-makers in our future.”


     Other school systems around the country are also inspired: “Minnesota Thursdays” launched in Minneapolis, “New York Thursdays” started in New York City Public Schools, and the Nebraska Department of Education is planning to adopt the program for their state.


Rewarding Local Tastes and Local Innovations


     California Thursdays is not a one-size-fits-all program. Each district tailors their menu options to their students’ preferences, their school site capacities, and the availability of fresh ingredients. From “Fish Tacos” at Natomas Unified School District in Sacramento County to “Beef Bolognese Pasta” at Fallbrook Union Elementary School District in San Diego County, and from “Vegetable Curry” at Pacific Elementary School District in Santa Cruz County to the “CA Bowl with Local Grains, Beans, Kale, Avocado and Salsa” at San Luis Coastal Unified School District in San Luis Obispo County, school districts are sharing the delicious diversity of the Golden State.

     “We have a peer-to-peer network that allows talented food service directors to share recommendations for recipes and vendors, as well as solutions to the challenges they encounter,” says Jennifer Lovewell, program director for California Food for California Kids and a former food service director herself. “The level of commitment and innovation is truly inspiring. It’s part of what makes our state and this program so special.”


     New districts in the California Thursdays Network include: Calistoga Joint Unified, Hayward Unified, Klamath-Trinity Joint Unified, Lucia Mar Unified, Madera Unified, Merced Union High, Nevada City School of the Arts, Ojai Unified, Paso Robles Joint Unified, Perris Union High, Plumas Lake Elementary, Robla Unified, San Jacinto Unified, San Lorenzo Valley Unified, Santa Ana Unified, Solana Beach Elementary, South San Francisco Unified, Twin Rivers Unified, and Western Placer Unified School Districts.


Click here for more information about the California Thursdays program
and to see the interactive state map of the Network. Click here for a print-ready version of this press release.


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The Center for Ecoliteracy is a Berkeley-based nonprofit dedicated to education for sustainable living and a pioneer in school lunch reform. For more information, visit




Nicole Sturzenberger

Center for Ecoliteracy

Office: (510) 845-4595

Cell: (530) 574-7902



Tanya Moss

Brown∙Miller Communications

Office: (800) 710-9333


Program Website

Press Materials

California Thursdays Video

© 2018 Center for Ecoliteracy & Brown-Miller Communications, Inc.

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