Guest blogger: Texan mothers dish it up – Part 1: High School

*** Please welcome our next guest bloggers***

We are a pair of new mothers who teach in an urban district near

Dallas, TX.  School lunch became an obsession of ours one day last
fall, when one of us was handed the menu for our babies’ daycare.  Our
crusade for better food for our toddlers has now grown to include the
high school students where we work.

Think back to your high school years.  Do you remember eating lunch in the cafeteria?  The way it smelled….  The way the food tasted….  And how pleasant it looked there on your tray, all ice-cream-scoop-shaped and congealed….  Mmm.  Dee-lish.

Then there was the alternative “snack line,” with its ubiquitous offerings of French fries (with or without the chili cheese) and gallons of Ranch dressing.  (I’m not going to lie; I scrounged through the seats of my car for enough change to purchase the aforementioned items.  Even now, my mouth waters a little when I think about it.)

Fast-forward 15 years, and you’ll find 30-year-old me at an urban public high school where I teach Social Studies and work with technology integration.  Of our approximately 1,700 students, 72% qualify for free/reduced lunch (this statistic increases to 74% district-wide).  For many of my students, this is the only meal they get each day.

So, what are they eating?

Today’s menu includes two choices: chicken alfredo with a breadstick, or a pizza cheese stick (what?) with spaghetti sauce.  As I walked through the cafeteria a few minutes ago, I didn’t see a single student eating either of these options.  I remarked to a young man that the chicken alfredo sounded good, and he said, “Yeah, until you see it.”

Most students were eating nachos; a couple had some sort of submarine sandwich.  I saw one student with chicken nuggets.  All of them had French fries with large plastic containers of ketchup (someone should really fill them in on the Ranch dressing thing).

When I asked the students for their thoughts regarding school lunches, they said things like:

It’s not good, but I eat it.
It is not very nutritious.
It sucks [expletive]. You cannot hide the truth!
It needs real improvement.
It’s nasty.

I encouraged them to elaborate:

I pay $1.85, and it’s not worth it. [Note: this is the full price, not the reduced price.]
The food tastes old.
We have no willpower.  If they put cookies out, we’re going to eat them.
They serve the same thing all the time. [This is true.  There are four school weeks in the month of March.  The menu for the third and fourth weeks is just a rehash of the first and second weeks.]
We would love to have healthier options.  If they gave us healthier options, we’d eat them.
It’s hard when you’re trying to lose weight.  I wish there was something healthy.

It bothers me to see that nothing has changed in the 15 years since I was eating in the cafeteria.  It kills me to know that this is the only food some of my students will eat today.  It ANGERS me to realize that they’ve reached an age where they KNOW they should be eating better, but their family’s financial situation is such that they’re powerless to change it.

These students, the 74% of children in this city whose families cannot afford to feed them lunch, if anything at all – these students KNOW that they’re getting shafted.  It’s time we speak up.  It’s time we demand change.  It’s time we help those who can’t help themselves.

The ironic twist to this story came in the form of an email that went out to the staff this week about how the food “auditor” is going to be here in the next couple of days and we need to make sure we are adhering to the State guidelines.

sigh.

***

Thanks for your post. Readers, stay tuned next week for more from these particular guest bloggers: Part 2: Daycare food

NOTE: I set up guest blog posts to auto-post during the day the night before

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75 Responses to Guest blogger: Texan mothers dish it up – Part 1: High School

  1. LynneInToronto March 18, 2010 at 10:15 pm #

    Mrs. Q you are awesome! I stumbled on your blog last night and was up reading it for 2 hours.

    I don't have children, but I am very interested in your project, so I started reading from the beginning last night….hopefully It won't take me too long to catch up…lol!

    I thought you might be interested in this: http://abc.go.com/shows/jamie-olivers-food-revolution 🙂

    Jamie has done a few shows like this in the UK including one involving the school system. This latest endeavor is for America.

  2. LynneInToronto March 18, 2010 at 10:16 pm #

    Unbroken URL…hopefully. 😉

    http://abc.go.com/shows/jamie-olivers-food-revolution

  3. Colton March 18, 2010 at 10:26 pm #

    $1.85…I graduated in 2007 in Texas, My lunches when I was in elementary school where 2.25-2.50. And from middle school on my Parents gave me 5 dollars a day for lunch because our lunches were 3.50-4.25. My parents would have loved it if my lunches were a dollar and eighty-five cents.

  4. wilde_hare March 18, 2010 at 10:30 pm #

    I'm starting to see more comments about the costs of these lunches and it really does make some sense. $1.85 isn't much money. Even if the gov't subsidizes this, then it's going to be the most calorie bang for the buck they can afford within the law. As well as being things that would otherwise go to waste.

    Interesting about the french exchange student who pays $5 for lunch and it's fresh and healthy. I bet those dollars make a difference, and enable the school to hire actual cooks.

  5. Anonymous March 18, 2010 at 10:33 pm #

    im a highschool student and for lunch i was served cold coctail weenies, a nauseating tasting potatoes, and an uncooked roll with a dough consistency. that lunch cost me $2.55. How can the school not feel guilty for serving students this?! its not a meal >:( i starved until i got home and ordered a japanese bento box of rice, broccoli, and chicken, for 1.50$. honestly, how can schools overprice bad food?

  6. Anonymous March 18, 2010 at 10:39 pm #

    Yuck. My stomach has been turning ever since I stumbled across this today. I'm currently a young high school teacher who has still fairly strong memories of elementary school lunches. My mom only let me eat them once a month so I had to select what days had the "best" food. Looking back, I'm SO glad that she made me pack a lunch.

    I'll still never forget biting into a corn dog only to discover that the "dog" was green. Bleh.

    I think you're brave for raising awareness on this issue.

  7. Anonymous March 18, 2010 at 10:46 pm #

    I feel sorry for the students in my lunchroom. I am also a teacher and I watch my kids eat AWFUL breakfast meals and lunch meals each day. Whatever happened to a healthy breakfast? A pancake pup or a huge bagel pizza with greasy cheese is not what my kids need. . .unless they want to get out of school with an upset stomach!

  8. Anonymous March 18, 2010 at 11:00 pm #

    15-20 years ago, i was having lunch at my elementary school.

    haha! i'm not clear on what you're talking about school food being de-lish, because it was unhealthy and nasty back then too, at least in my elementary school.

    school pizza looked, smelled, and tasted nasty, rubber cheese like stuff, and sweaty rubber crust.

    school hamburger tasted like it was cooked by method of boiling, yet still greasy, stinky, served cold on a cold bun, ketchup and mayo packet to garnish.

    school fries were soggy, over steamed, yet greasy, as if they were fried the day before, and steamed the next day…at age 5, or 6 years old, i would have been happier with a boiled potato with butter or sour cream instead of the cold, soggy, stink imitation like stuff they served.

    only decent thing i remember ever eating was chicken nuggets, because they were drowned in bbq sauce, and then there was nachos and cheese, the rest of the food went to waste.

    If school lunches are are loaded with unhealthy amounts of sugars, sodium, fats, etc., and are overall unhealthy…
    then might as well make them taste good like something they would serve in a real cafeteria, or restaurant.

  9. Anonymous March 18, 2010 at 11:02 pm #

    I found your blog on Yahoo & boy did it bring back memories. I remember going to school & dreading lunch time. The majority of adults would roll their eyes & make comments about how we're "just kids", we didn't "know how lucky we were to get a meal", & we were "exaggerating" on how bad the school lunches really were. My parents believed us for the most part, but we couldn't afford to pack our lunches everyday- it was drastically cheaper to eat at school. Mom never could really understand why we would arrive home absolutely starved.

    The pizza that we were served had so much grease/oil on it that I would take a stack of napkins & soak it off…then I would get yelled at for "wasting" the napkins. We were forced to eat everything on our plate, being punished by not being allowed to leave the table until we did or lunch time was over. The bright students who were caught hiding food in their milk carten were yelled at for "wasting" food & intentially trying to gross out other students & then were punished by making them stand in the middle of the lunch room until lunch time ended. I have always loved veggies. The ONLY veggies that we were offered were: greasy corn, limp green beans, & potatoes- tator tots & french fries were the most common. I have always loved yogurt & was thrilled when we were informed we would have some with our meals when I reached junior high. They offered once a month the Dannon yogurt that had the small packet of sprinkles that you were supposed to mix in the yogurt. Instead, the packets were confiscated by our lunch ladies before we ever saw them. We were first told that they didn't come with the packets & then told that they were taken "for our own good" because we would make a mess with them. Funny, we never got them so they had no idea what we would have done with them. And amazingly, the very next day, we always had some nasty, dry cake with an inch of horrible frosting decorated with…you guessed it, sprikles. In high school, we were given the option of whatever scary thing they offered, a sub, &/or fries. You were allowed to "go out for lunch"- which means you had less than 40-min to get from whatever floor your classroom was on, to the parking lot to a car (and pray your friends didn't leave you if you didn't have a car), get across town to the fast (yeah right!) food restaurants, get your food, drive back to school, pray that you'll find a parking spot, eat, & somehow get back to whatever floor your next class is located on. Over the years, there were so many car wrecks & teenage deaths that the school closed lunches to everyone but the seniors. The only other option was to walk 4 blocks to a grocery store that had a small deli where you could buy potato wedges, fried chicken, &/or chicken nuggets (which were fried, of course). Gee, that's a great selection of options. I ate a sub nearly every day at school during my whole high school career- the bread was so thick that I would tear out the majority of the inside of the bun…& then get yelled at for wasting food if I was caught throwing the extra away. It felt like we were being punished by needing to eat. I never liked how lunches at school were held. Now, my nephew informs me that things haven't really changed much. Nearly all his food it fried or unreconizible. At his school, they allow the students to purchase non-diet pop/soda/cola (whatever you call it. lol) & different candies as part of a system they use to teach the students how to save & spend money. It makes me want to investigate any school my children will go to, so that I can make sure they are getting a properly nutricious meal.
    I hope that the people in charge of school meals pay attention to this blog & work to correct the problems that still exhist in our lunch rooms. Thank you for trying to shed a light on this subject.

  10. Anonymous March 19, 2010 at 12:12 am #

    What a valuable cause your blog serves. I'm an American expat mom in Paris, France, and this hits a cord as I feel I have a foot planted in the US and here. I grew up in San Francisco, CA on school lunches as photo'd in your various posts.

    I am so very fortunate and grateful that my kids' nutrition in lunch and snacks (they're 3 years old and 19 months old) aren't a part of my daily worries! A friend snapped photos of the week's menu posted at her daughter's private daycare and it mirrors that of my sons' public daycare – no socioecon class distinction. At both schools – and this is common here – there are chefs/cooks who prepare fresh, organic, balanced meals daily. This is a link to the menu (flickr account)

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/81951381@N00/4324557855/

    Under the photo, you'll find a translation of each day's meals. – phillippa

  11. Jenn March 19, 2010 at 1:45 am #

    I am so glad to have found your blog. This is something I am very concerned about. My children very rarely are allowed to buy their school's lunch. I pack their lunches so I am sure they are getting "real" fruit & veggies, whole grains & protein. Unfortunately, there are so many others who pack lunches & think that Lunchables and Gatorade or Soda are a healthy alternative to the school lunches.

  12. Anonymous March 19, 2010 at 3:09 am #

    I graduated from a high school last year in a middle/upper class community and the prices of our school lunches were ridiculous! The food was not too bad and a lot of choices were offered but there were not very many healthy options. What i got most days was a custom turkey wrap and fruit but my brother on the oftern hand would get the main entree "hot" meal which was NOT balanced at all and once a week even consisted of a soft pretzel and a baked potato side. Can you say starch overload?? And the normal cost of a lunch and drink at our school is 5 dollars. Thats 25 dollars a week! 100 a month! My mom had to make us stop buying lunch….school lunches can be so ridiculous

  13. Anonymous March 19, 2010 at 3:34 am #

    Just a comment to your ranch with french fries blurb. Isn't ketchup 'healthier', or at least not as unhealty as regular ranch dressing? Regular ranch dressing has tons of fat. But besides that, keep up the good work.

  14. Anonymous March 19, 2010 at 10:41 am #

    Just a quick comment about the free and reduced price lunch option- Here in my county, there is little checking on parents' income and financial status. How many of those parents who are getting the school lunch really "need" it? When we were in a financial crunch a few years ago, we did qualify for the reduced lunch program and we were not even asked to provide proof of income. Perhaps if there was some weeding out of those who really CAN afford to pack their child's lunch, there might be some changes. Fewer kids getting lunch= more money in the system=higher quality for those who really need it? Something to think about.

  15. Jill/Twipply Skwood March 19, 2010 at 11:13 am #

    That was definitely the most horrible part for me too when I worked in public school – knowing that the meal was possibly the ONLY food those kids were eating that day.

    One school where I did one of my practicums had a menu with "It's heart healthy month!" on the back and listed all these things like exercise and stuff. When you turned it over to look at what was being served during "heart healthy month" there were hamburgers twice a week!

  16. Andrea March 19, 2010 at 5:18 pm #

    I also went to school around the Dallas area, more in the suburbs north of Dallas (Plano). In Plano (not sure if anywhere else because I moved to Texas in 10th grade), the high schools are split–there are 9th and 10th grades in the high schools and 11th and 12th grades in the senior high school.

    Ever since I was little I hated school lunches, and I came from a very fortunate family that my mom was able to be a stay at home mom and pack my lunch for me every day. Why did I hate school lunches? For the exact same reason you are doing this blog–the food was tasteless, greasy, and overall very unappetizing, especially to a kid like me who grew up eating delicious foods like raw fennel for a snack after school and stuffed peppers for dinner (still trying to convince my mom to try to get on Food Network, she is the most incredible cook).

    This packed lunch love lasted until 11th grade, when the cafeteria could not possibly handle the sheer volume of students. My graduating class from senior high school was a whopping 1,440 students and the whole school (mind you, only 2 grades) had over 2400 students when I graduated. The cafeteria simply cannot handle that kind of volume, and therefore the school district implemented off-campus lunch for the senior high students. We'd all pack in someone's car and grab a lunch near the school, rather than buy a school lunch which usually seemed to consist of greasy grilled cheese, greasy burgers, hot dogs, soggy fries, and any other unappetizing cafeteria food you can think of.

    As someone who has been raised on home cooked meals, rarely eating or wanting to eat fast food, and packed lunches every day for the majority of my life I still could not resist the peer pressure! Instead of packing a lunch for me every day, I convinced my mom for a lunch allowance–let the fast food commence! And let me tell you, that was the worst decision of my life. I packed on the pounds senior year and was miserable. Thankfully I lost all of it in college (reverse freshman fifteen, perhaps?) due to a lot of walking and eating healthy (in the school's cafeteria, no less). But what's interesting is that even though we were eating fast food for lunch, it was not that different to what we would see other kids eating from the cafeteria at school–except that ours looked and tasted a heck of a lot better. So either way I probably would have gained the weight–the only way I could have kept it off would have been to eat a packed lunch every day.

    If I could go back to the me in high school I would insist I continue to bring a packed lunch and still go out with my friends but eat my lunch while they bought theirs from whatever fast food place we were going to.

    I know your blog is aimed more at kids, but I thought it was kind of interesting that even someone in high school raised to eat healthy, smart, and motivated could still fall into the traps of the less healthy food variety just like your elementary school kids. As someone who is a newlywed and will eventually have kids, I'm terrified to think what my kids will be eating at school unless I am able to pack a lunch for them every day. There are so many changes that could be made that would cost the same or even less and would be so beneficial to our youth who don't have parents that can teach them about nutrition and/or pack them a home-made lunch every day. I appreciate what you're doing and I truly hope some changes come out if it!

  17. logankstewart March 19, 2010 at 6:56 pm #

    Wow, $1.85/lunch is ridiculously expensive for what's being offered. Lunch was $1.25 when I graduated in 2004.

    This blog idea is great! I hope change happens.

  18. berenichi March 20, 2010 at 4:39 am #

    You may find this government regulation of what foods are allowed to be served at schools interesting.

    http://education.qld.gov.au/schools/healthy/docs/smart-choices-ppt.pdf

    From page 9 they discuss "red", "amber", and "green" foods. Applying a simplistic traffic light approach to healthy eating. Foods in the RED category are only allowed to be sold on no more than two occasions per term. Because they have limited nutritional value, our government agrees that they have no place in school cafeterias. Or as we call them "tuckshops".

    Admittedly we don't have a subsidised food program for schools. Tuckshops are rarely open every day and are offered as a treat alternative to bringing a packed lunch from home. Because packed lunches remain the norm in Australia, rather than the exception. Which leaves healthy choices for children in the hands of their parents. Which is as foolproof as anything left to individual choice… but does allow for fresh foods and fruit to be sent.

    And some schools also follow a policy where healthy food is eaten at 10am and called "brain break". Because children work better when they've had a healthy snack and can refocuse on their work without listening to the needs of their stomachs.

  19. Anonymous March 20, 2010 at 3:52 pm #

    Only 7 french fries?!? WTF????

  20. The Zinn family March 21, 2010 at 5:47 am #

    I have to say that my school offered amazing food! We had a hot food line that always offered something good, then a sandwhich line, and then a la carte that had awesome salads. We had a resteraunt that was run by the home ec kids, and a school store that offered food from the local food chains. I have to say that school food for me was always good. I am from Utah and I have never seen food like I am seeing in these pictures before. If I had to eat that kind of food for 12 years of school, I would be freeking out too. I think I am going to have to take a sneek peek of my highschool one day and see if they have resorted to this stuff. I still can't believe that school serve this stuff. Maybe Utah was different, or maybe things have changed in the 10 years since I graduated.

  21. Danielle March 21, 2010 at 3:44 pm #

    Great Blog…just found out about it today. Here's a little story that relates..the other day I was running late and sent my son to school with money to buy lunch. At 11:30 I received a call from the school's secretary saying that my son was crying because he had to eat the school's food. Needless to say, I rushed over there with a sandwich and juice and he had 5 minutes to eat, but at least he ate. He is 9 and I plan on making his lunch from here on out. I really feel so sorry for all of the kids that are subjected to school lunches…WE NEED CHANGE!

  22. Anonymous March 23, 2010 at 1:56 am #

    After reading many of these comments it is clear to me that most of you feel that it is the government's (ie everyone else's) responsibiltiy to feed your children. I understand that a single mom with no job or a low paying job might have trouble, however most people would find a way to feed their kids if there were no government sponsored food programs. It could be argued that the availability of free food takes away the motivation for people to get their act together and take care of themselves and their children.
    Maybe if you complain enough, the government will take care of all of your childrens' needs, and you won't have to have anything to do with your kids.

    Grow a garden, get a job, quit spending your money on booze, cigarettes and drugs, when you shop for food, shop smart – stay away from ultra prepared junk foods, get involved with your local farmer's market and teach your children about self reliance and responsibility.

    By the way, high school age kids can work and earn enough to eat whatever they want, and not be victimized by the slop they call food at the school cafeteria.

  23. Anonymous March 23, 2010 at 9:30 pm #

    You took me back to my high school days in Texas. I can still taste the cheese fries with jalapeños on the side…yum! Those, hamburgers, and chicken fried steak are the only things I remember eating for lunch in high school in Texas. Oh, and candy type stuff like Star Crunch and Sni*ckers. Wow. School food has been bad for a long time….

  24. zebraoncrack March 25, 2010 at 1:52 am #

    Reading the students' various comments about the food at their school reminded me of something that I now find quite funny. I am currently doing my student teaching in southeastern Georgia and have lunch duty once a week with my cooperating teacher. The 1st grade students are in the cafeteria when we go and they have been instructed to raise their hands if they need help opening something or have a question. On one particular day, I noticed that a little girl was raising her hand. I walked over to her and asked what she needed, and she promptly responded: "my food tastes nasty!" I laugh about it now, but I remember thinking at the time "how annoying…there's nothing that I can do about how your food tastes!" However, when I laugh, I am reminded of the purpose of this blog. Not only do our students deserve nutritional, healthy options for meals, they need for food to look and taste appealing, too! How else are we going to expect them to get a sound meal during the day??

  25. Anonymous March 25, 2010 at 9:19 pm #

    Man. That looks digusting…
    I am a student at a middle school in Dallas, and I bring lunch every day. Fortunately, the food at my school is better quality, but healthy options are nonexistent. WE NEED BETTER FOOD. I commend you on your project.

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