Wednesday, September 8, 2010

What's for Lunch: Starch, starch, starch

By Ed Bruske
aka The Slow Cook

In the federally-subsidized school lunch program, potatoes qualify as vegetables. That's how you end up with a tray like this, jammed with starches in the form of baked potato, bread roll and beans. Add the sugar in the apple sauce and you have quite a glycemic load. (Thankfully, the apple sauce has no added sugar, just what occurs naturally in the apples.)

Actually, what Chartwells called this on its menu website was "baked potato with vegetable chili and low-fat cheddar cheese." That explains what those beans are in the upper left, because the kids weren't sure what they were (baked beans?) or whether they wanted to eat them (strangely sweet).

I did not see the cheddar cheese, but maybe it was already stirred into the beans.

Also on the menu were "seasoned green beans," which translates as green beans out of a can. Thus, here's another version of this lunch, with the green beans but without the salad of fresh cucumbers and tomatoes.

And here's yet a third version, without the applesauce. Schools that follow the U.S. Department of Agriculture's food-based menu plan must offer five items at lunch. To reduce plate waste, school district must allow high schools an "offers versus served" option, meaning kids only need select three of the offered items to qualify as a federally-subsidized "meal." But they can take all five if they want, as this particular fifth-grade girl did. Here in the District of Columbia, kids in all grades get the "offered versus served" option.

The kids really liked the baked potato, even though there was no dressing for it. (Where's the sour cream? my daughter wanted to know.) What they didn't eat so much were the "chili" or the other vegetables. The best thing on this tray by far was the "locally grown" cucumber and tomato salad. The cucumbers were crisp and cool, the salad perfectly dressed. I could have eaten it all day. But not many kids had it on their trays, and those that did didn't really touch it before it went into the trash.


  1. Ed, I keep looking at your lunches and thinking that I'd be satisfied with most of them - you should see what kids in the Midwest get for lunch! There is always room for improvement and transparency, though, so keep up the good blogging!

    I'll take your starchy baked potato lunch over our pancake, syrup, "potato rounds" (bake-fried hash browns) OJ, cheese stick, and Goldfish cookies any day. Or our other starch-buster: A cheese-filled breadstick, sugary yogurt, a pack of cookies, canned fruit and (at least!) fresh sanded carrots.

  2. You're right, Michele. I could write myself right out of a job if they continue to make improvements here in D.C. I keep hearing horror stories like yours. Why don't you start a blog and post the pictures so we can see what it looks like?

  3. ;-) - that's a whole story in and of itself (I do have a blog where I discuss food policy - have been impressed in general with programs in the DC Metro area.)

    I live in a suburb of Chicago (so, not far from Mrs. Q.) My first move was to stop by school at lunchtime with a camera: to make a long story short, I was prevented from taking pictures. I found another way to get attention, though: and shortly after that, District 65 in Evanston agreed to post their own pictures on their website: unfortunately, they haven't posted yet for this year.

  4. Michele, do you belong to the local wellness committee?

  5. Yes I do, Ed...though at the moment it doesn't really have legs; it's mostly school administrators who seem more interested in marketing the status quo than in change. We're pretty far behind the times in IL - but parental concerns on this issue are becoming quite powerful!

    At the very least, our schools have an excellent PE program, recess, encourage kids to walk or bike to school, and keep their play equipment maintained - so on that front, we're doing pretty well.