Sunday, October 3, 2010

Potpourri: School Food News Roundup

By Ed Bruske
aka The Slow Cook

More on the chocolate milk front: Florida's state board of education says it will consider in December whether to ban flavored milk, which would make Florida the first state to do so.

According to a report in the Orlando Sentinel, some board members are encouraged by the move here in the District of Columbia earlier this summer to take sugary milk products off the menu. The Florida school board says it wants to hear from experts on the subject and it sounds like there are mixed feelings among the various board members.

Board member John Padget, a former schools superintendent from South Florida, says schools should not be serving milk with added sugar in the midst of an obesity epidemic.

"When you think about it, we probably have a million overweight or obese children in our schools," Padget said. "I think the clock is ticking in terms of personal health."


TIME magazine reports on a new study that shows parents discriminate against their own overweight children. For instance, parents are less likely to help a chubby kid buy a new car.

It may be that parents correctly fear that their overweight kids will be less likely to succeed in life. Statistics show that heavy people are discriminated against in the workplace as well.


On a more encouraging note, CBS recently ran this intriguing video on school meals in France.

In France, even 3-year-olds get a five-course meal served on real china with a metal fork (no plastic "sporks" here, please). The schools recommend dinners to be served at home so they don't duplicate the lunch menu. And look what the kids are drinking with their school meal: no milk, chocolate or otherwise, but plain water in an actual cup.

In Paris, each of the city's 20 school district's has a central cooking facility with high-tech safety features. On the day one reporter visited, the were serving Bouillabaisse, the classic fish stew. They're not afraid to bread and deep-fry the broccoli so that kids will actually eat it (it usually gets thrown in the trash here.)

In Paris, school lunch costs between $5 and $6. Parents pay what they can afford and the government pays the rest.

Meanwhile, in a town about 400 miles outside of Paris, a seasoned chef makes meals for around 800 high school students for about half that amount, but everything is prepared from scratch using fresh ingredients. One lunch consisted on roast beef, handmade ratatouille turnovers, roasted carrots and mussels.


On the other side of the food world, as it were, in Billings, Mont., schools are thrilled to be serving kids what they want: mini-burgers and fries.

"We want the food to be as nutritious as possible," said state nutrition director Tamra Jackson, "but we have to have foods the kids want to eat."

Thus, the biggest sellers in Billings schools are the burgers, chicken nuggets and chicken drumsticks. It seems kids prefer foods they've seen in restaurants, and Billings schools need to sell more meals in order to keep their federally-subsidized program afloat.

Higher food and employee benefit costs have forced the schools to raise the cost of a full-price lunch for the first time in two years. Adding 15 cents to the price brings lunch to $2.15 in elementary school and $2.40 in secondary school.


In a compelling essay, the political editor of The Progressive talks about the conflicting views adults bring to school meals. Some parents help clean and prep the vegetables bound for their school's snack program. Other parents resent being told that kids need to eat more healthfully: they only want to serve what kids will actually eat.

She notices that immigrant children have no problem bringing containers of vegetables and rice for lunch. So why do American kids throw their vegetables in the trash?

Apparently, we all have a lot to learn about what food is best to serve in school.


Finally, an anesthesiology resident at the Mayo Clinic, writing in Minnesota Medicine, weighs the pros and cons of removing non-nutritious foods from school vending machines and other sales points, and argues that while schools can offer choices, they should stick to selling healthy foods.

The Child Nutrition Act re-authorization pending in Congress for the first time would give the USDA authority to regulate the sale of non-nutritious foods in all public schools nationwide.


  1. Thanks Ed for this fantastic news round-up!

  2. Plain water! How refreshing! I guess the French don't have the same issues with subsidizing the dairy industry over there?

  3. The video on school lunches in France is wonderful. Please note not only the fresh ingredients and trained professional chefs but also the fully equipped, state of the art professional kitchens. None of this comes cheap.
    As for the water as beverage - the French do not drink milk. The grocery stores there will have an entire aisle of yogurt, but only one small corner for milk. Their meals do include a cheese course.
    Imagine living in a country that prioritizes quality food and healthcare for all over military spending.