Wednesday, January 26, 2011

What's for Lunch: No Seconds!

By Ed Bruske
aka The Slow Cook

For some reason I can't get this photo to publish horizontally. But perhaps you can make out the items on this tray: spaghetti with meat balls, corn with carrots, green bean salad, a dinner roll and canned pears.

Even before the last of the kids had gone through the food line, others were lining up behind them for more food.

"No seconds! No seconds!" I heard the kitchen manager shouting.

Turns out what the kids were mainly after were the meat balls. I took a stroll around the lunch room and saw that most of the children had wolfed down the beef meatballs and sauce, and hardly touched anything else. Even the pasta was left mostly unmolested.

But their eagerness for more meatballs was thwarted. The lunch ladies were having none of that.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture is proposing new, "healthier" nutrition guidelines that would cut way back on starchy vegetables like potatoes and corn--two of kids' favorite foods--and replace them with more "whole grains" like this pasta and the dinner roll.

Think that means less starch? Get a load of the pasta sandwich this girl is constructing. In fact, what passes for "whole grain" in school meals is actual "whole grain-rich," meaning manufacturers can label things "whole grain" as long as 51 percent of the ingredients qualify. The rest can be refined grain. And since that's cheaper than serving real grains, that's what kids see at school.

They get a little more fiber, and a lot more starch under the new guidelines--80 percent more "whole grain-rich" products at breakfast, for instance.

But what was most tragic about this particular meal was the wonderful green bean salad that went untouched by the kids. The beans arrive frozen. The cook took care to heat them in a steamer, then "shock" them in cold water to stop the cooking process. They were not cooked to death.

To finish the "salad," she tossed the beans with red onion and chopped tomato and dressed them with oil and vinegar. It truly was a lovely side-dish lovingly prepared. I ate a heap, while the kids threw theirs in the trash.

You can't just redesign school food without talking to the kids about it. When schools present food like this kids aren't used to, there needs to be adults in the cafeteria encouraging them to eat it.

1 comment:

  1. Ed -- I literally stood up in my office and cheered when I read your last line. BRAVO!!!

    I serve 5 tons of fresh vegetables each day and 3 tons of fresh fruit each day. I am sick to my stomach knowing how much of it gets thrown out. Bad nutrition is a societal issue that usally starts at the home. We need more adult role models in the schools to combat that!

    Still, we can't have a menu that allienates the students. Red onions would have made my students cringe.