Tuesday, June 8, 2010

What's for Lunch: Chicken & Rice

By Ed Bruske
aka The Slow Cook

Chartwells, the company that provides food service under contract to D.C. Public Schools, calls this "cheesy chicken with rice casserole." I'd never seen it before, but I can assure you there's no casserole involved. Notice how they try to make industrially processed convenience food sound like something off a restaurant menu, or maybe a Sunday church supper?

My guess is the rice was cooked in the kitchen's commercial steamer. The chicken, most likely from the government's commodity surplus program, probably arrived frozen, then was stirred into the rice with pre-shredded cheese. Most recipes out of the Chartwells book involve a minimum number of ingredients and just three or four steps to prepare. It would not be unkind to call them idiot proof. They are designed for kitchen workers with minimal skill and only basic cooking apparatus.

The kids seemed to like the chicken and rice well enough. At the Chartwells website, the menu also called for "glazed carrots." That's a fancy description for carrots cut into rounds that arrive frozen in bags, then are heated in the steamer. I did not observe any "glaze." They just looked dull and listless, like most vegetable side dishes that come out of the school kitchen. It's typically hit or miss whether the kids even opt to have them placed on their tray in the food line. Most of the trays I observed did not have carrots on them.

Adults seem to think that if we only put more vegetables in school cafeterias, meals will get healthier. Frankly, I think adults are a bit delusional on this point. If you spend any time at all around school lunch, you quickly realize that most school kitchens are incapable of preparing vegetable side dishes that kids will actually eat. In addition, federal rules provide that the kids only have to choose three of the five items offered, so they can usually make a complete "meal" without at vegetable side dish at all. From what I've seen, the vegetables that do make their way onto kids' trays typically end up uneaten and thrown in the trash.

One girl who did take the carrots was seated directly across from me. She speared one of the rounds with her "spork" and placed a carrot in her mouth, then quickly spit it out. "You didn't like it?" I asked. She just shook her head.

That's a fresh pear you see in the photo, plus an open container of strawberry milk. How would you rate this lunch?


  1. How would I rate this? I give it a G for GROSS! Was the pear even ripe? glazed carrots sound awful. like something that I had to endure at my grandmother's table, when all vegetables were overcooked and drowned in sauce.

    The strawberry milk is loaded with sugar, the cheese loaded with fat, the rice probably white and nothing but carbs, the chicken could be fatty or prefried and may or may not have additives in it.

    I can't even call this a meal. I give it an F

  2. Was the pear even ripe? It's rare to find a tasty, ripe, pear at the grocery store, so I just wondered. And unripe pears have a lousy taste and texture -not a great way to convince kids to eat pears again.