Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Lunch at School

Whether I'm eating it, growing it, or just thinking about it, food is on my mind a lot.  So, after having been asked by Kat, and having recently read Fed Up With Lunch: The School Lunch Project, and because it was Valentine's Day, I decided to have lunch with Kat at school yesterday.

I knew I shouldn't expect the homemade whole wheat dinner rolls or chicken and noodles that were standards in my school cafeteria growing up.  I doubted I should even expect made-from-scratch breads like those we made when I was a substitute lunch lady a few years ago.  Nor did I think that I'd be staring down at a handful of nasty paper and cellophane microwave meals like those pictured in Fed Up With Lunch.  What I ended up with was just what I expected -- something in the middle.

I was all set for an entree of biscuits and sausage gravy.  That's not one of their usual lunch offerings, but I like B&G much better than a toasted cheese sandwich, a hot dog or a "sunbutter" and jelly sandwich, which were my other options. 

As it turned out, because of the snow day, Monday's menu was served instead of Tuesday's.  My new choices were a breaded chicken patty on a bun, "Italian Dunkers", a hot dog or the sunbutter sandwich.  I chose the Dunkers, which were two halves of a hot dog bun with mozzarella cheese melted over them and spaghetti sauce for dipping.  I decided to call them "almost breadsticks".  With them I was offered canned peas and whatever I wanted from the salad bar.  I said yes to the peas, and chose lettuce salad and half an orange from the bar.  I also chose 2% milk; other milk choices were fat-free chocolate or strawberry.  The only dressing available for my salad was ranch.

Kat was a few people ahead of me in line.  When I caught up with her at the table, I saw that she had also chosen the Italian Dunkers, but her only other picks were strawberry milk and a whole banana.  Not good enough, but it wasn't the school's fault. Several veggies had been offered but she didn't take them.

As we ate, I asked Kat what would happen if she had only picked the main entree, and she said she also had to chose one fruit or veggie and one milk.  I asked her what would happen if she wanted a lot of the food from the salad bar.  She said that she could have a total of 5 items, including the main dish and her milk.  (At older grade levels, these limits increase, I think.)

Kat and I both ate everything on our plates.  I didn't especially enjoy the "almost breadsticks", and the peas were like any other canned peas.  On the other hand, the items on the salad bar were all very fresh and tasty.  The ranch dressing was overly sweet and reminded me more of bottled coleslaw dressing than ranch.  I would have preferred whole milk over 2%, but whatever. 

I paid $3.15 for my meal and felt like, in terms of quantity, I got a fair shake.  I left feeling comfortably full.  Kat's meal was $2.05.  I didn't think she had two dollars worth of food on her plate, but I'm sure on other days she does.

The meal wasn't especially healthy, but it didn't disgust me, either.  What did disgust me was that Kat had only 15 minutes to eat.  I couldn't finish my meal that quickly and sat for another 5 minutes after she left to finish up.  I don't think that is nearly enough time for students to eat their lunch. 

But wait...this was just something that happened today.  Kat is in a group of four students who are studying for some upcoming standardized tests.  For some reason, one of the boys in the group thought it was time for them to head to their study group 10 minutes early.  I would have thought a staff member would escort them, but I guess they are on their own for this activity.  In any event, I learned that lunch sessions are all 25 minutes long.  That's much more reasonable than 15 minutes.

In general, I think the school lunches could be better, but I don't think I'll deny Kat her favorites, which only come up about once a week.  She asks to take her lunch the rest of the time.

What do you think? Do you think this is an absolutely awful lunch or, like me, do you think it's fairly mediocre? 

If you have kids in school, do you let them eat the hot lunch, and if so, what kinds of things are served?

Does your school offer a salad bar, and if so, do your kids eat from it?  It seemed to me that a lot kids were choosing a banana or some canned peaches for their side item, but little else. 

Do your kids have enough time to eat and digest properly? 

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