"I feel left out that there are all these programs in San Diego and Los Angeles," she said. "In Orange County … we're missing the whole boat."
Then she attended an Orange County Produce Conference at the Great Park, led by A.G. Kawamura, the former secretary of the California Department of Food and Agriculture and owner of the farm.
Appel was hooked.
"This has been my mission as long as I've been in food service in Laguna Beach," she said. "The faster I get it from the farm to the plate, the better the nutrition."
Appel doesn't need a government mandate to focus on health. At the district for the last 20 years, she removed soda from vending machines in 2000.
"I wouldn't feed students in Laguna Beach what I wouldn't feed myself, my children or my grandchildren," she said.
For 11 years, Laguna Beach High School has had a salad bar stocked with fresh fruits and vegetables, from kiwis and grapes to bell peppers and zucchini. Other sites in the district followed suit, including the elementary school.
Lunch specials at the high school include Chinese food, pastas and a taco bar.
Going fresh, cooking from scratch and tossing the processed foods are not the cheapest way to go, but Appel says it's important.
"If we don't teach our students now how to eat nutritionally then they'll be obese a lot faster than past generations," she said.
It may be hard to imagine first- and second-graders lining up to get a plate full of veggies, but Appel said that people would be surprised.
The woman in charge of the elementary school salad bar encourages the children to try one new thing each time, and usually they do.
The kids can choose specialty salads, such as a southwestern fiesta salad or a Granny Smith apple salad that includes pecans, Swiss cheese, apples and romaine lettuce.
Appel says nutrition starts at home and encourages parents to have their children try new things and not assume they'll dislike it.
Another program is Chef to School.
Appel isn't able to consistently train staff with the district's budget, but one of her vendors, Sysco, connected with a chef trained in Italy who is teaching the staff recipes and menu preparation.
FOR THE RECORD:
An earlier version incorrectly said Cisco connected with a chef trained in Italy.
The next step: showing the kids how to cook.
For more information about the school district's nutrition, visit lbusd.org.