What are kids eating in school?
I remember as a kid getting one of those trays with a carton of milk, a main dish (no vegetarian options back then, at least at my school), a side of carrot sticks or mushy peas, and maybe some canned fruit cocktail. All of it was up to nutrition standards set forth by the United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) National School Lunch Program (which public and not-for-profit private schools can choose to participate in) so I was definitely getting my caloric, vitamin, etc. needs. However, the food was not appetizing at all. OK. I take that back a little bit. It was a little exciting to me because I never got to eat “American” food at home so it was interesting (for a while) to eat fruit cocktail (yuck) and salibury steak (….).
Maybe I have strange notions about how things would have changed from when I was a child to what kids are eating these days, but it looks like not much has changed. This blog follows a teacher as she bravely eats what is being served in the school cafeteria. And it is not pretty. She concedes that most nutrition guidelines are being met with the lunches, but that they are just horrible. Some foods aren’t even completely thawed before they’re served (like the fruit cups) and everything seems to be packaged individually. This really confuses/angers me. When I had lunch, we got everything plopped onto a compartmentalized tray. It looks like this school just has one smooth tray and everything is in their own little shrink-wrapped or packaged bundle. This is a ridiculous waste of non-recyclable products (styrofoam, saran-wrap, plastic containers and trays, etc.). I guess I can kind of see them trying to reduce cross-contamination of foods when you have a big vat of it, but, honestly, I think individual packages are are such a waste (especially when you have a huge school population and this is happening everyday).
There are some advocates for reforming school meals, though, and they are starting to get some attention in the media. Jamie Oliver, a chef, is advocating meals that are less processed, freshly prepared,and local if possible. Alice Waters, of Chez Panisse fame, basically started the local farm to school idea with the edible schoolyard project where kids help grow foods that can be used in their school. Ann Arbor public schools picked up on this idea a few years ago and integrated The Agrarian Adventure into their school. The Agrarian Adventure consists of programs that expose, teach, and encourage students to gain knowledge about the where their food comes from, how to create a relationship with the foods they eat, and understanding the impact food has on their health. As for their school lunches, The Agrarian Adventure helped foster a collaboration between the public schools and the Ann Arbor Farm-to-School program to bring local fruits and vegetables to the school lunches.
So, while my school lunches were pretty dreary and many current school lunches are unappetizing, the hope is that proper nutrition as well as acceptable taste, texture, and (hopefully) environmental concerns such as packaging, local, sustainable, organic, etc., can play a bigger role in the foods that students are eating everyday.