Okay, it’s time for me to tell it like it is. It’s not like I was lying to you before. But I realize that I may have suggested that our school lunch reform efforts were all flowers and butterflies. It’s time for a reality check. For you. So you don’t think that this is easy. I’ll be honest – there have been many days when I have wanted to stick a spork in my eye. But I haven’t told you about those days because I didn’t want to be a complainer. And I didn’t want to make anyone look bad.
The truth is, I love my school lunch advisory team. They are candid and passionate parents and teachers. And they have high standards for the types of foods that should be served in our schools. For many children, this may be the only meal of the day – so we owe it to them to do the BEST we can. And I also adore Elena, our food service director. She has a tough job and is constantly being bombarded with demands and complaints. It’s a wonder she gets up the gumption to come to work every day. It’s because of my respect for all of these people that I haven’t been as candid as I wanted to be in my school lunch articles so far. I was afraid that they would be offended if I suggested that things weren’t ideal. But it would be dishonest if I told you that I was perfectly satisfied with our progress.
I’ll say it here, and I’ll say it now – I am very proud of our work on school lunch reform so far and can’t wait to see where it is headed. This post (and the ones to come hereafter) are NOT attacks on anyone – they are just honest stories about our challenges and hurdles. We may not have stretched enough before the big race – and we have stumbled a few times. And it’s time you knew.
We have had some setbacks since we started this effort almost 8 months ago. One of the first issues we tackled last year was the sugary cereal that was being served as a part of the breakfast program. Elena agreed to serve high fiber, low sugar cereals – and we even got rid of the muffins-as-big-as-your-head. But a few weeks ago, we were frustrated to discover that several of our schools were serving Froot Loops again. How could that have happened? “The package says they are low in sugar,” we were told, when we asked. Oh Lordy. And what about the mixed messages that it sends to kids – that we actually endorse that stuff? Families can serve their kids whatever they want at home, but it is our job to be educators at school. We have to set a good example. It turns out that someone used an old ordering sheet over the summer while our district’s central kitchen was being renovated. While that excuse may be valid once, it won’t be again. We encouraged Elena to remove the old ordering pages and create new ones that ONLY included items that are healthy and meet the standards set by our advisory team. We haven’t seen that list yet, but our fingers (and toes) are crossed that we’ll be allowed to help revise the ordering materials.
Buying good food on a budget is difficult, and commodity foods can alleviate the burden. But my skin crawls when the kids are served up a batch of canned fruit in syrup. It’s not the canned part that bothers me. It’s the sticky syrup – the extra sugar. Why is it being served? Because it’s free. And our district has over a year’s supply in their stock piles. As a temporary solution, we are urging our lunch service workers to drain the cans and rinse the fruit before adding it to the salad bar. It’s not being served every day but some of us cringe when it is served at all. I wonder if our plethora of cans could be used as door stops or paper weights instead, so they aren’t wasted. I hope that our staff can learn to say NO to items like these next year. Even if they are free.
I’d love to hear from you. What’s the reputation of the lunches served in your community? Have you or any other parents tried to make changes in the food service program? We would all love to hear about the experience – what worked and what didn’t. Did the tone of this article work for you? I want to be sure that you can learn from our trials and tribulations, and candor seems to be the best strategy. I desperately hope that this will be the start of a candid discussion about feeding our kids, and why it pays to try to do it well.
P.S. And since I am being extra honest here, I thought you might want to know that my daughter isn’t the biggest fan of vegetables. I didn’t want you to think that just because I teach kids how to cook that my kids will always eat what I make. But that’s another post – more transparency for another day.