Now, I had seen the menu, I knew what to expect: “Beef fingers, mashed potatoes and gravy, peas, fruit/vegetable bar, milk.” But I have to say, having eaten that food, I feel assaulted by my lunch. I had hoped that “fruit/vegetable bar” meant that they have a salad bar? But I was wrong. There was some watermelon in a cup. I asked a teacher about the salad bar, and she looked confused; then she said they must have meant a bar, like a granola bar type thing. I didn’t see that either, though. I was also told that they choose this lunch to serve on “lunch buddy” day because it’s one of the best things on the menu. I don’t want to be too negative, but let me just say: it wasn’t good. And it wasn’t healthy. Usually food manages to be at least one of the two, but I guess if it needs to be inexpensive and easy to prepare, too, then something’s gotta give.
The “beef fingers” – and I don’t know why that term seems so icky when I’m okay with “chicken fingers” – were definitely flaked and formed beef of some variety, covered in batter and fried (at some earlier point in time) and reheated. The mashed potatoes, which were the most appetizing thing on the plate, were potato flakes, peas were canned, “texas toast” was a thick piece of white bread with something yellow smeared on it (butter? maybe?) There were three different kinds of milk: chocolate, 1% plain, and “vanilla shake” milk. The girls both chose the latter. I looked at the label and there were 22 grams of sugar in there. That’s 8 more grams than is in a serving of the vanilla ice cream in my freezer. And the packaging of “vanilla shake” milk was almost indistinguishable from the plain milk, which is significant when you realize that a fair number of those kids can’t read. In the whole lunch, there were no whole grains and not much fiber, especially if you consider that most of the kids threw their peas away. Charlotte and Ramona started on the watermelon, then ate the peas, and each ate a little bit of the meat sticks. They weren’t interested at all in the potatoes or the toast.
Now, I don’t fault Oklahoma, our school lunches back in California weren’t much better, although at our elementary school there was a salad bar. What saddens me in this case is that almost every kid at this school eats the school lunch. And in a situation where 56% of the kids get free or reduced lunches, and this lunch that they get is going to be their best opportunity for balanced, nutritious food for the day, I feel like we are letting these kids down. My girls bring their lunches to school every day, because I have the luxury (and believe me I know how luxurious it is) to have the time and money to do that.
I know I’m not saying anything new; Jamie Oliver has had an entire TV show on this subject, and there is also an excellent blog written by an anonymous teacher who has resolved to eat school lunches every day of the year and write about it. It’s hard to feel so powerless about it. I only have the power to protect my own children from this, but change has to happen. I just don’t know how to do it.
One thing that I did do was to email the girls’ teacher and tell her that I’d be interested in doing something food-related with the class. She had asked me earlier if there was anything I was really passionate about that I’d like to come and talk to the class about, because the kids love it when parents do that. At the time, I couldn’t think of anything (I mean, I’m not going to go in to a first grade class and do a Zumba presentation, am I?) but now I remember exactly what I’m passionate about. Fresh, healthy, tasty food.
|I felt compelled to compensate for the lunch; snack was peaches, home-made hummus, and multi-grain crackers|
|Much enthusiasm ensued.|
|Score! For hummus!|
|Except on Elsa's part.|