Day 58: chili

Today’s menu: chili, green beans, tortilla chips, orange

I thought the chili was a touch spicy today, which surprised me in a good way. The green beans were flavorful in that they tasted like I would prepare at home and I found myself savoring them. And having fresh fruit is a pleasure. The school lunch gods smiled down at me today.

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41 thoughts on “Day 58: chili

  1. I'm glad you liked your lunch!

    But seriously, what does a little kid do with an orange like that?

  2. Ok, the chili always looks incredibly gross to me. I hope it tastes better than it looks.

  3. Today doesn't sound too bad. Chili doesn't look the best though, but if it tasted okay… Actually, today seems fairly balanced and "normal". Glad you got a bit of a break today!

  4. I'm fairly new to your blog, but am enjoying it very much! I'm also a public school teacher in the midwest who has – after 25 years of yo-yoing, has finally lost 50+ lbs. that I needed to lose, primarily by giving up sugar, but also eating less in general, and more recently, meat. With my new passion for healthy food and bodies, I am constantly appalled at what our students choose to eat, or are forced to eat, through the school lunch program. (I didn't know chickens HAD nuggets!)
    Anyway, I'm curious about one thing: why are all the foods on your tray pre-packaged? Why isn't the food served, with utensils, directly to your tray? Your school is not only serving over-processed, unhealthy foods (for the most part – the orange is good, but like a previous commenter I'm wondering what the littlest kids did with it) but putting tons more garbage in the landfill.
    Not sure if you can answer me or not, but I'd love to correspond with you directly!

  5. This is a weird question but the school lunches don't make your stomach a little out of whack? Everytime my kids have ate at the school, the stay in the bathroom for hours! I don't know what it is…but every single time, no fail….they have hurting tummies.

  6. "What does a little kid do with an orange like that"? Seriously? Can we stop forgetting the kids in school are all 5-6 years old or older? They can open a damned orange, if their parents have done ANYTHING right!

  7. The kids whose parents actually buy fresh fruits for them, maybe, but do you know how many kids never get closer to a fresh fruit (at home) than a "juice" box? Of course, those are also hard to open.
    Also, peeling and eating an orange takes a fair amount of time, even for an adult, and by the time the kids get to their table, they have maybe 10 minutes to eat their whole delicious lunch.

  8. Whew.. I'm glad lunch was kind to you today. Those green beans are actually green! Nice!

  9. The lunch looks good today. Vegetables, fruit (no-horrible fruit cup) and the chili looks good too. 🙂

  10. I just came across your blog. I was amazed. Reminiscing on my own days of cafeteria food. In elementary school, I caught the beggining of the shift to frozen food, and kitchen free cafeterias. The only food I liked? The Tacos. And the fruit. Milk upset my stomach. The pizza was gross. I hate fake chicken nuggets. I was notoriously picky. I eventually converted to bag lunch, or I subsided on chips. By high school I moved across the country, but my schools still had kitchens. I still hated cafeteria food. Except for the fried chicken. The lines were huge those days. From a bout 3rd grade through high school I brought my lunch to school. My choices were probably not always super healthy, but I always had one serving of produce per meal. Looking at the food today….I don't know why we don't have a national movement to improve our food and help our kids stay nourished. I can't wait to see your final tally.

  11. Of course they should be able to deal with an orange!!!! Sorry,but this way of thinking is where half the problem comes from in the first place!!!

  12. The question is not — can a child deal with an orange? — that isn't the issue. The question is can they deal with an orange AND eat the orange AND eat the rest of their meal AND socialize in a very short time frame. My kindergartener has just 30 minutes for lunch. That time starts when they enter the cafeteria and includes cleaning/packing up lunch boxes/cafeteria trays. A child who has to go through the lunch line has very little time to actually eat — let alone prepare an orange.

  13. i think school lunches are ok some times but the chili didnt look that great but everything else seemed to be ok.

  14. I see your point Danielle – maybe the oranges could be chopped into quarters for them.

    It just seems such a shame to see fresh fruit on the tray and for the kids not to have time to actually eat it.I probably sounded frustrated in my earlier comment and as someone trying to do the right thing in my school I guess I am….(deep breath)….

  15. Mrs Q- I think your taste buds are adjusting to this school lunch regimen! The chili looks so gross! Maybe it tasted good, but what about appeal- shouldn't the food look recognizable at least? I mean, it looks like all of the chili ingredients were just liquefied… ew, can't they make it look like food?
    On the other hand… I love seeing the fresh greens, and it's good to hear they tasted good as well! Of course, I must ask how many of the kids are actually eating them, and as someone else commented on, what is a kid going to do with that orange? It should probably be cut into an easy hand food.

    Keep up the great work Mrs Q – I love your blog!

  16. @Anonymous 9:59/3:21/8:52: Also consider that some oranges peel neatly and easily, but most do not. Then you're left with sticky hands in addition to the other concerns Danielle raised. What kid would bother with it?

    Mrs. Q., that makes me wonder how the kids liked this meal, and whether they actually ate anything other than the chips and maybe some of the chili? I know kids at home sometimes need to be prodded to eat healthy. I'm guessing no staff at your school does that during lunch? While this does seem like one of the healthier lunches, if chips are included, they'll be the first thing eaten, and forget about the fruit and veg. I really don't think fried tortilla chips should be provided as part of the lunch at all. Baked ones, maybe.

  17. I am with you on the orange. It is wonderful to see fresh fruit on the tray. However, my students get 20 min to eat. That is from the moment we walk in to the moment we walk out. They have to get their tray, punch in their account number, get their milk, sit down, eat, dump their tray, and walk out the door. All within the 20 minutes. Heaven forbid they forget something first time through the line and have to go back. I teach 4th graders. They don't have time to peel the fruit and eat the fruit. It helps for the cafeteria to slice them! I have a problem with a 20 minutes lunch break. We are teaching them to eat as fast as they can and not take the time to enjoy the lunch. The schools encourage bad eating habits whether they realize it or not.

  18. This lunch has promise.

    Even with the chips, I would guess the fat level is reasonable for a growing child (chili is usually pretty low in fat and it looks like the green beans are not slathered in "buttery sauce".) Also, the carb-protein-veggie-fruit balance is much better in this meal than in most you are eating.

    I agree about the orange. If the orange was cut into quarters, though, this lunch might be near perfect.

    Hats off to your school cafeteria staff!

    I wonder if you had a headache after this meal? It has more protein and fiber than most of the meals (especially if you drink the milk,) so that might have helped with your afternoon headaches.

  19. Mrs. Q, I have been reading your blog for some time now, but this is my first comment.

    I am very pleased to see at least a little variety in colors! Green, yay!

  20. I find it scary the tortilla chips say whole grain. I bet that counts as one grain serving per our lovely government. Don;t mind it's deep fried. How about a hunk of corn on the cob instead of chips. The orange is good, but maybe slice it for the little ones. And that chili, I can only imagine what god awful crap is in it. You must have a stomach of steel 🙂

  21. I really appreciate what you are doing thank you. Since I found your blog I have been packing lunch for my son everyday. I also started doing research on foods we eat. I found a very interesting movie and a company whose products help you digest food, so you can absorb all the nutrients and eliminate the wastes. Thank You again and keep doing what you are doing.

  22. Looks pretty good and comparable to what I sent with my kids today (Chicken curry, an orange, milk, and crackers). The chilli doesn't look like the greatest but hopefully it tasted better than it looked.

    Nice to see some colors in there!

    As to the comments about the orange. As others already stated, kids do not get that much time to actually eat their food. When I send in oranges or apples, I slice them, peel them, etc to save them the time of doing so when they need to be eating.

  23. Food provider or kitchen staff- please take note.

    Halving the orange, then cutting it into slices or "smiles" would make it much easier to eat.

  24. I am college student now, but I see in you meal selections and personally from my schools, If students are vegetarian how are they getting protein? I have had so much trouble with this throughout school and now in to college (I have been a vegetarian since 4th grade) Schools have a hard time thinking of vergetarian students. So I took my lunch almost everday.
    I agree with the oranges I even pass by whole oranges if I am not at home they can take time to peel and eat and do make a mess.

  25. holy moly! green beans AND an actual orange! jackpot?

    but me too, unpeeled oranges problem. mrs q has mentioned how short her school's lunchtime is, and let's not forget finicky, sensitive kids who have sensory issues or kids with motor skills delays. i loved eating oranges as a kid but the feel of the peel creeped me out, and the shiny dust it coats your hands with as you peel it, the spray from the peel, the pith left sticking to the orange, the juice leaving your hands sticky, and many oranges have really tough skins which are quite difficult for small fingers to pierce into…overall a time-consuming uncomfortable experience.

    also, seriously, if much of what the kitchen staff is accomplishing during their shift is putting trays into the oven to reheat, certainly they could slice the oranges for the kids?

  26. The chili looks like something you would get at a gas station to put on a hot dog

  27. Good on you for what you're doing!

    I help in the lunchroom at my child's school everyday. Although a lot of fresh foods are served, ie. fruit and veg which are cut into kid size pieces (yeah!), there is still a lot of processed food served. My child recently came down with the flu and blamed it on school lunch. I've been packing a home lunch ever since and, can I be frank, my child's regularity issues have ceased to be a problem. All that factory food staying in the gut is cannot healthy.

    Also, our school menu it says that a student may choose an entree plus as many as four sides but at least two. Well, I watched trays go by today with a different eye. Kindergarden students and maybe even first graders are still too young to make healthy eating choices, am I right? I mean really, sugar is going to win, right? This is what I saw today, more than once, a meal consisting of a PBJ sandwich (factory made), juice (considered a fruit), a scoop of canned peaches, strawberry fruit cup (ours are always frozen too!) and chocolate milk. That's not a balanced meal. How can they keep focused in the classroom with all that sugar in their bodies?

    Our school has recess, morning, lunch and afternoon. It really never occurred to me that some schools didn't send kids out at some point during the day. So sad.

  28. I'm very interested in this blog, but I'm getting quite tired of some of the comments and commenters. On the one hand, we want kids to be given real food. But then, when they are given whole fruits, we complain that they can't handle it, and seem to want to pre-peel their food for them, which just perpetuates the cycle of babying them. We want to reduce waste, but the complaints about things like whole oranges lead to the enormous waste and expense of pre-sliced and packaged apples and baby carrots in otherwise unnecessary plastic baggies. We also want them to have real food, as opposed to things like processed chicken nuggets. But then, when they are given chili, arguably closer to real food than the omnipresent nuggets, we complain that it looks "gross," to quote someone above. We complain that they maybe they don't eat enough, and aren't getting enough food to fuel them, but then wonder if maybe they don't like the meal and perhaps just toss it, after eating the chips, totally blowing off the more healthy fruit and vegetable. We complain that they don't get enough whole grains, but then complain that the whole-grain chips may be fried. We complain that the meals are too carb-centric: bread, tater tots, etc., but then complain that the schools are not catering to the protein needs of the vegetarian students. School cafeterias can not possibly cater to every subset of society there is. If a fourth grader is a vegetarian, they either have very strong personal beliefs which may not be shared by their parents, and therefore know that when they chose the lifestyle, they were going to have to deal with them (their beliefs) themselves, or their family has these same beliefs, perhaps for idealistic or religious reasons, and they know they need to deal with them by sending the child with lunch themselves. I keep kosher, but I would never expect that a cafeteria be equipped to cater to me because my needs are so specific and demanding. How could we ever expect a cafeteria to be able to deal with every possible "minority" (I mean "minority" from an eating perspective): vegetarian, kosher, halal, nut-free, gluten-free, soy-allergic, milk-allergic, etc., etc., etc. There are simply too many of these subset groups for any cafeteria to deal with.

    Do not misunderstand me; I have no connection with school cafeterias whatsoever. I am a teacher, though I teach at a high school, so I have nothing to do with taking my students to lunch either. I am disheartened to see my students eating chips and candy all day, especially that sold by all the clubs to make money for their programs. (Ah, the irony of selling Snickers bars to fund sports teams!) But we can't have it all, much as we might want to. It is vitally important to provide healthy food for the students, but unless we force feed them, there will be some who throw their food away or choose to eat only chips, fries, and other junk. Is that reason enough to justify catering to the kids' tastes and only serve "kid" food: nuggets, pizza, French fries, and the like, just so they eat something?

    I am sorry this comment is as long and rambling as it is, but I just wonder how we can "have it all."

  29. Those pre-packaged servings of food look absolutely dreadful – I wouldn't serve food to my dog like that!

  30. Mrs. Q can you shed some light on why all of your meals are prepackaged with carbord trays and plastic film covers? Does your school not actually COOK food? They just heat up strange little containers?

  31. Just started reading your blog. At my college campus (well, I graduate soon so I'll name it) Nazareth College, and the company, Chartwells, there have been numerous problems with them not labeling what has nuts in it. A good chunk of our sauce and pasta salads for retail come prepacked. It's gross and frustrating and complaints to food management and school admins have been… fruitless. (oh, pun!)

    I really like your blog and am curious, has anyone done something similar with hospital or nursing home food?

  32. queenscook,
    just to clarify I choose to be vegetarian during 4th grade because I hated the taste and texture of meat and it never really settled well in my stomach. My parents and I sat down with my doctor to discuss these issues before I decided to become vegetarian. Simple changes can be made if you know what is going on in your schhol not every school may have all the listed subgroups. With the menu above instead of chili for the vegetarian students blackbeans would be an esy alternative you just cook them in a little chili powder to flavor them. It would be extremely easy for a school to get one large can of blackbeans to feed students who did not want chili

  33. It might seem easy, but it looks pretty clear that at Mrs. Q's school no cooking is being done at all. Maybe they can have some veggie alternative entrees shipped in if they are requested for a specific student, but really, I wonder if they wouldn't just say that they can't be expected to provide non-standard options. And it might not even be so wise to rely on it, as Anonymous @ 8:27 PM points out that there have been labeling problems at her (his?) school. Of course, the threat of a lawsuit over a nut-allergy might convince them to be a little more responsive, but maybe that's just my vicious, litigious side coming through!

  34. Queenscook – I liked and appreciated your comment. It was really thought provoking for me.
    My solution to "having it all" is offering variety. This can be done and IS done in many public schools by having salad bars in the cafeteria. They present a fantastic opportunity to cater to many different and discerning palates, providing vegetarian and vegan proteins and increasing students exposure to vegetables (a proven component in increasing vegetable intake.) I hope more schools recognize these as a valuable resource in their food program.

    A note on feasibility:
    I believe it is all but 15 NYC public school that have salad bars. NYC is the largest school district in the country. AND space is limited to put it mildly. Its totally possible to do.

  35. Queenscook – I agree that the school shouldn't have to meet everyone's needs. In a large institutional setting like a school, if you have dietary restrictions that the majority does not share, get used to providing for yourself. And I definitely agree with you that we shouldn't cater to kids tastes just because that's what they demand.

    But airlines (back when they provided food!), didn't make sure that all meals were Kosher or vegetarian and acceptable to any possible restriction. If you needed something special, you had to ask ahead of time. Couldn't schools get a ballpark figure of special meals that are usually needed, instead of providing one meal that everyone can eat? That is very difficult to do and still have a lot of variety. So @Lisa R. Suriano, having variety and options go a long way.

    However, I think you're getting yourself too wound up here. You seem baffled that the many individuals commenting on this blog have contradicting opinions and concerns. Welcome to the Internet! This is a place to formulate thoughts and share ideas. Why should we all speak with one voice? Unless you have found individual posters' comments to be contradictory, I see no problem with dissent and differences. And even given the many viewpoints and opinions, I don't see it as being at cross-purposes or unworkable.

    You think force-feeding kids healthy foods is the only way to get them to eat healthy? Here's another way: DON'T SELL JUNK FOOD IN SCHOOL. Don't give kids the option. They can bring stuff from home, but that is the only way. That means in the cafeteria, in vending machines, in the school store, at school events, and ESPECIALLY for fundraisers (that's right, FUNDRAISERS). This is something the school district can mandate through its Wellness Policy. It may not be popular, but any school that provides junk at school just undermines the "teach students to make healthy choices" approach. People may think this won't work but they are WRONG. Talk to the Hudson Falls school district in upstate New York. They did it. It takes a dedicated Superintendent with the support of the Board, but it can be done if people make it a priority.

    Wanting fresh fruit does not mean that oranges can't be pre-sliced without being pre-packaged. Some whole fruit can be eaten out of hand, like apples and peaches. Oranges cannot. Nobody said anything about peeling oranges for the kids. But it shouldn't have to be rocket science – a quick internet search turned up a $220 tabletop fruit sectioner from Sunkist that the school staff can operate. And if the district used sectional trays, waste wouldn't be an issue.

    No, schools can't please everyone all the time. There are always going to be haters. But you can't let that get you crazy.

    Oh, and asking for whole grain doesn't mean that corn chips are acceptable, baked or fried. While it may be technically true that corn chips are "whole grain" that doesn't make it good lunch food.

    I think your comments underscore how important it is to think through the issues and be careful what we ask for. But I think it's definitely worthwhile.

    P.S. @Lisa R. Suriano – NYC being the biggest school district in the country gives it leverage and bulk purchasing power that small district's don't have.

  36. Jgold – I liked the thoughts in your post as well. (I love the debate and sharing of ideas that goes on here.) I know that the size of NYC's school district gives it great buying power. It can be a positive thing here for sure.
    My point was more that in the large number of schools that the NYC DOE services only 15 dont have salad bars. (quick online research tells me that there are over 1600 schools in the district!) While price is a major factor that helps in reaching food service goals, I think it is important to look at examples of schools that have accomplished the logistical challenges of providing a healthier school lunch. (btw the NYC DOE still has work to do on its food program but they are making strides)

  37. I'll have to ask my students if they have a salad bar in the students' caf; I wouldn't have thought there was one, but I'd be surprised if I just happened to be in one of the 15 schools that don't have one. I teach in a pretty well-respected school.

    I also don't think I've seen one in the teachers' caf, but I'm not sure about that. Since I keep kosher, even if I pop in, I don't have much reason to be near the food area, so I really don't know. But truthfully, I can't think of the last time I was in there during a lunch period. Maybe I'll make a special trip down there soon. Or just ask someone.

  38. The majority of you who comment do so to whine. Again, I see none of you taking action or even planning to take action. This blog is redundant as again, it doesn't take a hero (as so many of you think of this blog's author) to eat a school lunch, take some crappy cell phone pictures and post them. Until you suburban types take action by actually disbanding from the herd think that is predominant around here, I cannot take this blog, its author or its comments seriously.

    I'm 28 and I don't have any kids. But I'm a tax payer with a vested interest in the younger generation. Why am I at school board meetings? Why am I planning school gardens? Why am I going to school to school for easy healthy meal planning programs? I wrote a cookbook that has been published in our school district and I DON'T EVEN HAVE KIDS. Why is a 28-year-old single woman doing the work without children while you "parents" in your McMansions and subdivisions read this blog, comment on it and consider yourselves on the front line of change?

    Please. Get over yourselves, including the author of this blog. Acting, not reacting is what brings change.

  39. Above all we should remember that there are two problems, two very diffiult problems.
    1. Educating parents on how to feed their children when they themselves do not eat properly and haven't for all their lives.
    2. Educating the government on what is actually good nutrition, not what is good for Agri business.
    What came first? Agribusiness selling us their idea of good food or ourselves only wanting junk food? It was a long slow process but we have become accustomed to eating what we are sold.

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