Day 103: quesadilla

Today’s menu: quesadilla, orange, baked beans, oatmeal cookie

I was given a choice of cheese sandwich (whole wheat bread!) or quesadilla. I decided on the quesadilla because I had never eaten one before. I think it was a good move. The cheese didn’t seem to be as processed as the stuff in the cheese sandwiches I ate last school year. I know that yellowish orange cheese doesn’t necessarily mean less processed, but somehow it seems more natural than the processed cheese sandwiches. And it tasted ok too.

I’m a baked bean fan so they were fine. Still bummed the oranges aren’t sliced up for the kids to eat quickly, but you know I think it’s because there really isn’t that much prep space for that and I wonder if they even have the manpower to chop them.

I had a student puke today though it wasn’t related to school lunch. Puking from illness on the second day of school? That’s gotta be a record!

Getting back to the subject, overall not a bad lunch…compared to others….

***

Hello to all the new readers! Let’s see if I can answer your questions. First, I came up with the idea for the project last year in December when I was working on personal goals for the “new” year 2010. So I am eating school lunches in 2010 so the project awkwardly includes parts of two school years. If I’d had any sense I would have done it over one school year, but it just shows you how un-premeditated the project was.

I still maintain that I couldn’t have done it over one school year because summer break was necessary for my stomach! We also get to see if the meals get better this year compared to last year. I can tell you that the menu looks very similar to last year, but I noticed that many breads and the pasta are specified as “whole grain” instead of white bread like last year.

For those of you new to the USDA regulations, more than two grains per day need to be offered (and those who know better please do correct me – I’m getting fuzzy on this one. The USDA rules are convoluted). So the cookie is the second grain. I guess I’m happy to see the “oatmeal” cookie over the “chocolate chip” cookies of last year. But I do not consider it a grain…hmm… Pizza counts as two grains, which is odd. And sometimes meals randomly include pretzels again to satisfy the extra grain requirement. There is a method to the USDA madness however obscure it may seem.

Some of you commented on the abundance of packaging. That’s part of what shocked me when I first saw these meals. That was not my experience with school lunch as a child. I thought that maybe this was just my district doing this, but in talking to other people I have found that the company that serves these meals is national. A lot of kids in this country (mostly East Coast though, right?) get their food in these odd containers.

The reason? Their school doesn’t have much of a kitchen. Everything is brought in frozen (95% of school food is brought in frozen nationally) and then heated up in massive ovens. Staff has been slimmed as real cooking gets cut from the budget. Aside from the packaging, the food is the same stuff being served all over this country to kids in school. Poor kids and rich ones eat food like this every day.

***

To the “old” readers, thanks so much for hanging in there with me! I’m back in the groove at school and loving life. Let’s finish out this year of school lunches! Yee haw!

(NOTE: This post has been delayed because the screams of an unhappy toddler…probably getting sick yet again…my poor baby)

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18 Responses to Day 103: quesadilla

  1. Justine September 9, 2010 at 3:40 am #

    I went back to the "others" link and man that pb&j looks gross!

  2. Shannon September 9, 2010 at 4:11 am #

    I just want to hug you and invite you to TX for a real quesadillas. Our groceries have fresh tortilla shops and the one I love makes an amazing whole grain tortilla. They give the kids hot samples right off the machines and the bags still have the steam droplets on them. Pare that up with real cheese and so good!!!

  3. Lauralee Moss September 9, 2010 at 4:59 am #

    Hi. I am new here, but am now a loyal reader. What a great blog.

  4. Jennifer September 9, 2010 at 5:32 am #

    I'm not a new reader, just a new commenter! I'm so glad that you're doing this! I'll finish college and start teaching Pre-K next fall and I'm really interested to see what they'll be feeding the kids.

    As for getting sick… I actually got sick on my first day of 6th grade. Way to make a great first impression!

  5. The Table of Promise September 9, 2010 at 10:52 am #

    Actually the cheese in that quesadilla is probably slightly less processed if they used cheddar versus the american cheese in the cheese sandwich. American cheese is largely made from ground up ends of regular cheddar and added to additional milk and stabilizer to give it that cheesy texture, whereas cheddar cheese is actually cheese, just probably with a whole lot of preservatives and salt added.

    http://thetableofpromise.blogspot.com/2010/05/to-do-list-american-cheese.html

    And beware of items labeled whole grain. They are still probably mostly white flour.

  6. d12brown September 9, 2010 at 11:53 am #

    I agree with Shannon, for real quesadillas come down to Texas and visit!

    Is baked beans considered a veggie??? The science teachers in my family (there are 2) would probably argue that baked beans are not veggies, but fruit because they are fertilized from a flower and contain (are) the seed of the plant.

    Also, all I see is sugar! Baked beans are loaded with sugar and then a cookie??

  7. Candy Morrison September 9, 2010 at 12:07 pm #

    I was very shocked at the amount of packaging used in your photos as well. We are in NC and my kids' schools still serve it up old school style on the big sectioned trays with little to no packaging. But there is rarely any fresh fruit and just about everything they eat is breaded and it seems EVERYTHING is brown or tan in color. Oh so appealing!

  8. CLAMCO September 9, 2010 at 12:45 pm #

    I'm a lunch lady in what is considered a fairly well-to-do school district. Our food service is in the business of making money, plain and simple. Part of the profits go back to the school, so whenever I make suggestions for healthier food items, I just hear that it's too expensive. I've been back at work for 2 weeks now. Although we supposedly have a wellness policy, not much on our (elementary) menu has changed. Our menus rely heavily on government food. Cheese is usually used as a protein in at least one entree every day. Even our salads have shredded cheese on them. The salad meat is cubed cold cut meat (the ham is gross) or cubed breaded chicken (aka left over nuggets). The dressings are calorie and fat laden despite being labeled lowfat, so even a so called healthy salad is not really very healthy. We are still using white bread for rolls and buns. Our peanut butter is full fat and a serving is 1/4 cup with 3 slices of bread. All the veggies are canned as well as most of the fruit. We do offer some fresh apples, oranges and bananas and yogurt, but other than that, it's all processed food. Today's menu, for example is corn dogs or hot ham and cheese on a burger bun. Basically ham or ham? Our food is not packaged like Mrs. Q's, but it's not much better. It's made, (um…heated) in a central kitchen and then sent out to the other schools in the district. I've been told that no raw meat is allowed in school kitchens (like for grilled or baked chicken), so I don't know how Jamie Oliver was allowed to make that BBQ chicken. I'm just a server so my hands are tied, but I see what the children eat and what they throw away. If they had a camera by the garbage pail so parents could see, they would be shocked. Oh dear, I've rambled on. My answer, (in a whisper) is to pack your child's lunch and allow them to buy maybe once a week when something special is on the menu.

  9. David @Kalona Organics September 9, 2010 at 2:00 pm #

    I was reading the Chicken Parm post, and my 3yr old said "it looks like a yucky doggie lunch". I must say the year started with a reverse bang. These last two lunches look rather sad.

  10. redroundorgreen September 9, 2010 at 3:29 pm #

    @Jennifer — Interested in what kids eat at Pre-K? Check out my rants of today and yesterday. 🙂 Today's is about the lunch programs we narrowly dodged before getting our boys into a pre-K that serves only snacks…but even those aren't so great. http://redroundorgreen.wordpress.com/2010/09/09/more-healthy-school-foods-the-bullets-we-dodge/
    Oh, and Mrs. Q — that's definitely not an actual quesadilla! But I would say you should get familiar with quesadillas, because they're a great go-to lunchbox thing for little ones, and you can put practically anything in them! Plus they're SUPER simple to make.

  11. Amy in StL September 9, 2010 at 3:54 pm #

    I can't believe you'd never had a quesadilla! In highschool we spent an overnight at a convent during a field trip (Yes, it was a Catholic school) and the nuns made us a late night snack with tortillas and cheese in a cast iron skillet. For most of my friends – and me – it's my favorite drunk food to make when I get home. Mainly because it can be microwaved when I shouldn't be using hot kitchen appliances and it has protein and starch and is yummy with salsa.

  12. Erin Starks-Teeter September 9, 2010 at 4:28 pm #

    Quesadillas are so easy and quick to make that it always makes my husband and me laugh when we see them in the frozen food aisle at Costco. Just throw a tortilla in a pan, put toppings (cheese, beans, ext) on it and throw another tortilla on top. That's it. It's sad that there isn't the staff or space in a school kitchen to make fresh quesadillas. They taste a lot better.

  13. Renee September 9, 2010 at 6:07 pm #

    When I first saw the photo, I thought that was a small grapefruit.

    I'm wondering if Mrs. Q meant she'd never had a quesadilla as part of the one of these school lunches? Given what she posted over the summer for lunches, it would be surprising if she'd never had or made quesadillas.

  14. Maggie September 9, 2010 at 8:32 pm #

    Yes, the regulations are complex, aren't they?

    It doesn't cover all the regulations (they are all available on-line) but, I'm going to suggest, again, a recent book "Free for All: Fixing School Lunch in America" by Janet Poppendieck. It is an excellent summary of the history of the layers of regulations and the roles that school food service has been expected to fill over the years along with a great deal of research about school meals.

    To get to the specific question about the bread servings…no way to answer without knowing the meal planning pattern that is being used and the grade levels being served. Sorry. If you've got that info, I would be able to help.

  15. TrippyTexan September 10, 2010 at 1:51 am #

    I really admire what you're doing here. I remember hockey puck hamburgers and door stop burritos… I also remember being forced to drink milk and eat the overcooked spinach, or else we weren't allowed to go out and play. Some things have changed a little, some things have changed a lot, but it seems like hardly anything has changed for the better.

  16. Mrs. Q September 10, 2010 at 12:20 pm #

    Thanks for all the comments! I'd love to have real quesadillas with you. I have eaten them before. It ws just the first time I'd had them for school lunch.

  17. Mrs. H September 10, 2010 at 5:56 pm #

    I love the comment from the lunch lady (Clamco). I understand your predicament completely – it's so sad you can't speak up. Too bad you can't find some parents to confide in who would help you make things right in that cafeteria!
    I know what it's like to speak up and then be ostracized and made fun of, but you could really made a difference too. You're not just a server, you're an important part of that school and you should find SOMEONE who will listen!

  18. Anonymous September 11, 2010 at 3:00 am #

    Last year, I almost stepped in a puddle of ham and pea soup vomit in the hallway on the second day of school. It happens.

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