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Tuesday, October 16, 2012

School Lunch Soapbox - Behind the Scenes

I used to be a teacher.  My mom was a teacher.  I have a lot of friends that are teachers and work in schools.  Over the past 6 weeks or so, my main question has been "How's school lunch going this year?"

The answer is surprisingly consistent:  "It's not too bad.  But we're not following the guidelines exactly."

I ask what they mean by that.

For the most part, school lunch programs in our rural state are:
1.  Still offering seconds without charging the students.
---I'd like you to tell the German ladies at my local school that they can't give the football players another helping on Fridays.  Frankly, I'd like to see the showdown that would have happened between my brother (the 4 year starter on both offensive and defensive lines) and our beloved head cook Deb if she wouldn't have been able to give him seconds on TaterTot hotdish.

2.  They are not following portion sizes on each item.
---The hardest one to source is a slice of bread that is the right size.  Although there are some vendors that are making this available, for those schools that still bake their own, this one is tricky.  The other difficult item to size is meat.

3.  They are serving more protein.
---Do you know what 2oz of meat looks like?  Aimee at Everyday Epistle shows you.  Again, I can tell you that a single chicken leg or meatball would not have satisfied my brother, or me, for that matter!

4.  They are still serving dessert.
---Yes, you read that right.  Every couple of days or so the students have the option of a small cookie or piece of cake.  {insert gasp here}  Some of my contacts even said, "We'd be in so much trouble if we got audited."

What else are our rural schools seeing through the lens of the new school lunch menu?
1.  There are more fruits and vegetables on the plates.  But...

2.  There is also more waste.  A lot more waste.
---Hubby and I were discussing how we could economically feed some pigs over the winter without the fresh pasture that they love and that supplements 20-50% of our feed bill.  I need to make a deal with some schools to take all these wasted fruits and vegetables!

3.  Kids are complaining of being hungry in the afternoon.  Some schools have snack programs and others do not.  The snack is usually a fruit or vegetable.

4.  Parents have started packing snacks, and even supplemental lunches, to help their kids get through the day.

What's going on in your schools??  Feel free to comment anonymously if you need to.


  1. Let me just start that I am not all on board with the USDA and their idea of what is healthy. I teach nutrition classes using a snap grant but I each full fat dairy and don't poo poo butter. That being said, maybe these kids should eat those fruits and veggies on their plate. Perhaps they aren't the tastiest, but it's still food. I HATED canned creamed corn growing up, but dad loved it so we had it at least twice a week. I just plopped my spoonful on my plate, ate it before I thought about it too much, and moved on. But seriously, 2 oz of meat!? Who are they kidding?

    1. My hope is that the kids are trying them. They would never even try them if they weren't on their plate, so we are making progress there. I'm not against more fruits and veggies, but not at the expense of protein and fats.

  2. We don't have a lunch programme in the local schools, never have done (I went to school here too). The high school and middle school do have cafeterias with pay as you go set menus. The middle school caf is very small, run by one lady, and she keeps a very simple menu. The high school, where both my girls attend now, has a caf run by the cooking apprenticeship program, and they serve up some great food at reasonable prices. Today's menu features:
    Grilled Chicken & Roasted Peppers Panini $3.75, French Chicken Salad Wrap $3.50, Chick Peas Quinoa Salad $2.50,Broccoli Cheddar Soup $2.25,plus home made cookies, rhubarb muffins and chocolate banana loaf. Seriously, I would love to eat there! In addition, a few years ago, the school opted out of sodas and pure junk food. The vending machines only sell water, juice, nut packs, granola bars and sports ades. That said, if the girls choose to eat at the caf, they do so out of their own pockets, not mine. We have always provided a bagged lunch since grade 1, and transitioned a year or so ago to the girls packing those themselves. This does not always go well, time appreciation and teens being mutually exclusive concepts, but it's a learning process. Packed lunches when I packed them were usually sandwich (w/w with p/b & J, egg salad, ham, cheese, tuna, lettuce, chicken, bacon, hummus, tomatoes,cream cheese, cuke - mix and match), veggie sticks, fruit (fresh, home canned, or dried)and a sweet (cookies, banana loaf, muffin). They have always packed a water bottle. Leftovers haven't worked out - they don't stay hot even in a thermos, which is also quite bulky to heft around all day. When the girls make their own lunches, I see a lot more leftovers going out in their cold state - which is fine. One girl chooses a lot more fruit and a lot less salad to take, the other seldom takes fruit, but invariably takes at least 2 veg. The hard part as the parent in this is to make sure the fridge and pantry have stuff they'll grab. Since I have always lived with providing school lunch from home, I tend to think this is the best way to go, but there are a number of families in our area sending their kids to school with no food and no money. There is a donation system at the school caf that allows these kids to get a basic meal, and there is a free breakfast programme run by parent volunteers as well. I can see though that this only works because of the availability and income level of parents here. In an inner city situation, neither would be as available. I still stand by the idea that parents should be responsible for feeding their kids, and the government shouldn't be involved, but I'm less certain when I think of these hungry, neglected kids.

    1. I'm not sure why parents are abdicating the role of feeding their children. My next school lunch post will talk about that very issue. I love how your school is doing it, especially the cooking program students doing the cooking!!

  3. I agree - parents should be responsible for feeding their children - not the schools. I understand the issue of families with lesser income having a hard time at this but lets be honest - that has always existed and school lunch programs have not. In my husbands school there was a family that always brought onion sandwiches - it was what they had, it was what they could afford. And what happened to the ability of children to recognize that maybe today the child sitting beside them could use 1/2 their sandwich? A little sharing lesson that could be learned if the kids weren't so deep into their iPhones and electronic games. So, how much money COULD the government save if they got out of the lunch business and let parents feed their own children? How much healthier would our children be? I Know that parents in America today have no idea exactly WHAT their children are eating at school - most don't ask, some don't care.

  4. Tell it like it is, Annie. We need facts in order to make improvements. Thanks for the call out!

  5. According to my daughter our rural school also mostly, sort of, follows the guidelines. They get more protein than what they should but they are also offered more fruits and veggies, and the kids are sometimes allowed back for seconds w/out having to pay more.

  6. hmmmm...if making a deal with the school for their waste doesn't work out, here's another option: once upon a time when I worked at a zoo, a local big chain grocery store would keep all of their spoiled produce (as in, a bruised apple, that sort of thing) in a large bin that we would collect every few days to distribute to the herbivores. In exchange, they got passes for their staff members. Basically, they got some nice swag for their garbage but we were supposed to keep it pretty hush-hush. I'm pretty sure that not every grocery store in the world would be willing to do this, but it never hurts to ask! Maybe some local grocer would be happy to exchange their spoils for...something...

  7. On the topic of the mounds of waste. The school my girls attended last year had three trash cans. The first one was the recycling can for plastics/etc, the second one was things that could become compost (food) and the last one was a regular trash can for items that didn't go into either of the first two cans. The compost can was used for the school garden, but before they had a garden they allowed locals to pick some up and use for their gardens.
    As for school lunches, mine were horrible growing up. My kids have said they were okay (on the few days they have ever bought lunch), but I prefer packing their lunches, that way I know what they are eating and that they are getting enough. I know that's not an option for every parent, but it works for us. I think school lunches should allows seconds (my girls school doesn't) and they have the smallest portion sizes ever (and yet they have a snack machine in the main hallway).


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