Robert Courtemanche blogs as Teach_J at his site http://www.teachj.wordpress.com/. His blog focuses on teaching resources for journalism and media tech. teachers in secondary schools. He has been teaching for 15 years and blogging for three.
I’ve been enjoying Fed Up With Lunch for more than a month now and answered the call to guest blog. I am really interested in the way that we decide what to feed our students and how often they eat the same meals. And I also wonder about the healthiness of the meals we serve.
I chose to eat one day in the cafeteria. I don’t usually do it, and when I do I take the option, like the Coach in Mr. Holland’s Opus, to cut the line. At my school (a large urban public school in a metro area in Texas) we have exactly 26 minutes to eat lunch. Coming from the world of television 15 years ago, I was appalled that I didn’t get an hour for lunch.
Unlike Mrs. Q, I got to choose my day and pick a day I might enjoy the food. So, here was my lunch: Potatoes Au Gratin, Foot-long Chilli Dog, Crispy Vegetables, a Red Apple and Strawberry Milk. I could have had a Green Apple and Plain or Chocolate Milk as choices.
I found the lunch of fairly good quality. The potatoes were tasty, but a little watery. I’m sure it is hard to make this for nearly 2,000 kids. I’ve made this dish myself at home and had worse results. The footlong was filling and not bland. I’ve had just as good hot dogs at many high school sporting events. The veggies were cold and crisp and the apple still crunchy. My milk was cold, but came in at 210 calories, which does seem a little high. I think it is great that the label says fat-free (skim) milk, but also that corn syrup is the second ingredient. Not so good.
I was able to chat via email with both the director of student nutrition and the secondary cafeteria manager. They both mentioned the fact that our school no longer fries any foods, we use whole grains in many products and many items are made from scratch. One of the healthiest options that are available are the pizzas made with whole grains, low-fat cheese and turkey pepperoni. Sodas are no longer sold on campus and nearly all snacks are low-fat and reduced calorie varieties, such as baked lays chips.
The quick three-week food rotation of the meals helps them with food costs and meal preparation training. I know from when one of my newspaper students did a story on the cafeteria several years ago, the cafeteria is run on a not-for profit, not-for loss basis, by a contracted company. Between the demands of federal and state mandates and the costs associated with running such a massive kitchen, the margins for error are small when it comes to cost overruns.
After reading this blog and watching the ABC show Food Revolution – and now reading the emails from my district nutrition specialists – I’m more convinced than ever that the USDA guidelines are still messed up. I think our cafeteria staff have nearly as many demands and mandates as we teachers do. And they are under nearly the same kind of fire as we are. Many of these directives seem to make it harder to cook healthy. And if the government wants to get serious about healthier lunches, then the funding must come too.