I am amazed by the amount of work it takes to prepare meals for my own family. However, I am left aghast by the amount of work four women do at my son’s cafeteria every school day. Yup. Only four women serve breakfast and lunch to hundreds of Head Start and kindergarten students. I can’t forget to mention that they prepare the snacks for the district-managed preschool students, too. These women affectionately refer to the students as their own kids. As well they should with the muscle they put in to provide nutritious meals.
This is why there are no easy answers for improving the school lunch program. There are high standards and few resources. The kitchen manager at my son’s school said that they are scrambling to meet the new guidelines from the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010. She mentioned the prep work for fresh fruits and vegetables is more intense. She also let me know that her heart breaks when she watches those fruits and veggies go into the trash can. I felt for her. She and her staff put in harder work and then the kids don’t eat it anyway. Or so it seems. Changing the norm takes time.
Now onto my experiences at last week’s National Take Your Parents to Lunch Day. It was a brisk Wednesday morning. You read correctly. My son eats lunch at 10:50 AM. Still morning. The menu read Nacho Grande. I politely helped myself to carrots and some chilled 1% milk. There was no way I could stomach that drippy cheese sauce product. My mind raced judgmentally, “How on earth could this represent a nutritious lunch?” I watched Big P take a few bites and sip his chocolate milk. Then I watched Middle E inhale that nacho grande like it was his job.
I didn’t waste any more time being annoyed by the nutritional standards of the meal. This meal is heralded as a school favorite and the drippy cheese sauce product can be kept warm ready to plop on top of an unsuspecting pile of corn chips. Less waste and easier assembly is like heaven for these overworked cooks.
My response to these amazing women behind the steam table: Thank you. I know you said it was heartbreaking when you watched food become trash. It’s time that the entire school participates in the transition to healthier foods. You get the food on the tray. Now let’s ask the rest of the staff if they can help once they sit in their seats.
A few ideas for a cash-strapped district:
- Lunchroom monitors leading the kids in a “Tray Taste Test” every day. Make is socially acceptable to try new foods.
- Lunchroom monitors walking around noshing on the veggie of the day.
- Classroom teachers talking up the new healthier entrees and veggies when they are lining up for lunch.
- Gallery of pictures showing classroom teachers eating giant stalks of broccoli, carrots, celery, cauliflower, spinach, etc.
- Surprise visit from the principal who is dressed as a carrot or broccoli.
I leaned over to some kids commenting on how awesome the carrots were. Guess what happened next? They grabbed a carrot, too.