Thursday, May 08, 2014

Sorry, Michelle

Starkist doesn't want tuna with good taste. They want tuna that tastes good. Or so I've been told. The same can be interpolated for kids and their school lunches. I know because five days a week I stand next to the "share box" that fills up on any given day with the healthy alternatives that our school lunch program. The kids know the rhythm by heart: take your choice of entree, with a milk, two items from the salad bar, and have a seat. If you don't want milk, don't take milk, we are reminded. Over and over again. Otherwise the full or nearly full cartons end up being poured into a strainer to keep the straws and bigger particles from ending up in the bucket. The one that gets thrown down the drain.
There isn't much sharing of milk going on. There is variety, most days, with a couple of choices for your meal along with some fresh produce to put on your cardboard tray. Wednesday is pizza day, when the choices diminish to cheese or pepperoni, but that's not a concern since Wednesday is pizza day. The share box is pretty empty on Wednesday. Because it's pizza day.
Beef and broccoli over rice? Italian chicken drumstick? Veggie soft tacos? These are a little tougher sell. These are all just a smidge healthier fare than what they get on Wednesday (pizza), and those are the ones that end up being shared. Those are the days that make us all wonder if we're missing something when it comes to feeding out kids. What's the point of giving them healthy food if they won't eat it? Starting next school year, pasta and other grain products in schools will have to be whole-grain rich, or more than half whole grain. That includes rolls, biscuits, pizza crust, tortillas and even grits. Grits? Oh boy. I can't imagine how many takers we would get at our school for grits, especially if they were whole grain grits.
School nutrition directors say the standards were put in place too quickly as kids get used to new tastes and school lunch vendors rush to reformulate their foods. When kids don't buy lunch, or throw it away, it costs the schools precious dollars. The truth is, that "share box" really ends up being shared with the compost bin. My solution? Serve them whatever you like, whole grain, gluten-free, soy-enriched. Just make sure it tastes like pizza.

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