Have you ever seen a cheese sandwich served in a plastic pouch?
That was one of the main entrees when I visited my daughter's school, H.D. Cooke Elementary, for lunch the other day. The sandwich, identified on the packaging as "Hot from the Grill," was heated while still in the plastic, then displayed for the kids on the steam table.
Unfortunately, there was nothing on the package to indicate ingredients. A second entree choice was chili over rice. I'm just guessing, but since I spent a week in the H.D. Cooke kitchen, I have a pretty good idea how things work. The chili was probably made with USDA commodity beef mixed with soy protein and prepared by a distant processor, then shipped to the school frozen. Beef like this typically is reheated in a steamer, then it could be mixed with kidney beans out of a can and some form of dried chili seasoning.
Most of the kids also had on their Styrofoam trays an 8-ounce (1 cup) container of milk--usually chocolate or strawberry--and a Granny Smith apple. One thing conspicuously missing from the trays was any form of vegetable. Turns out steamed carrots were being offered, but none of the kids were taking.
"We don't like the carrots," my daughter explained. "They taste yucky."
Under USDA "offered versus served" rules, kids need only take three items from what's being offered to qualify as a federally-subsidized meal. Most likely, those unserved, uneaten carrots will simply go down the kitchen's commercial garbage disposal.
I also wonder about little kids being served great, big Granny Smith apples. Most of them won't finish the apple. It just goes into the trash. What about cutting the apples into wedges, mixing them with a little lemon juice to prevent browning, and serving them in smaller portions? There is a kitchen tool that makes quick work of this and would save a lot on apples.
4 months ago