A Short Rant About School Lunch

I knew it would happen eventually…I was barreling down the interstate at 75 (or maybe a few miles above) when I realized the delicious lunch I had packed (squash/carrot/coconut black bean soup, pineapple chunks, chocolate milk, a cheese stick) was sitting neatly tucked in my fridge, 45 miles from my destination.

But I am a planner.  And I had planned for forgetting my lunch by putting some cash in my lunch account.  $2.99 later I had my first school lunch of the year–a sub sandwich, some mixed vegetables, pears and mandarin oranges from the veggie bar, and a low fat chocolate milk.

The sandwich was fine–some ham, cheese, and some tomatoes I picked off the veggie bar. It could have used a sauce, but it wasn’t bad.  The mandarin oranges and pears, though not fresh, were fine too.  The vegetables, however, were bad.  As in I wasn’t even sure what the white ones were (potatoes?).  It could have been classified as “mush” and that would have covered it.

I’ve heard all the complaining about the new school lunches, but I think people are aiming their vitriol toward the wrong place.  The new guidelines aren’t to blame.  The lunch ladies, bless their hearts, do what they can with what they’re given, but even so I don’t blame the kids for throwing out their fruits and veggies and complaining they’re not full. The fruits and vegetables I ate today were not fresh…not even close.  They came out of cans.  I work in a small school so thankfully at least some of our main courses are made from scratch, but just as many or more are from boxes, cans, or tubs.  Which just isn’t good food.

When I was growing up, and granted I went to a small Christian school, our lunch ladies made everything from scratch (including the sugar sandwiches, but that’s a different story).  We probably had things out of cans, I don’t remember, but there was actual cooking involved, not just heating.  They made goulash and Texas straw hats and homemade soup with cinnamon rolls. Sure, nutrition matters, but in my opinion (and I certainly have plenty of them) is that if we want kids to eat, and eat well, we have to cook well.  Give them real food, fresh food.  I know economics and politics are a big part of it, but the consequences of poor eating are real.  And I certainly think that if we gave kids whole grains and more fiber, etc., done well, they’d eat it.

I wish schools had enough money for, among (a lot of) other things, fresh, homemade food at lunch.  For now, I’ll keep bringing my lunch and reminding my students that milk comes from cows and vegetables grow in the ground, not a can.

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