Thursday, October 18, 2007

School Lunch Menus

It's National School Lunch Week! And the only thing scarier than the school lunch is probably the site for the national school lunch program. The giant Mac 'n Cheese head frightens me. So do some of the menus that moms submitted which tell a much less positive story than the School Lunch program site does:
Here's the link to the lunch menu for October. I think it's "pretty good" in that they offer fruit and veggies at all meals, use whole wheat bread, and are not overly fried ... The problem is that the kids don't eat the fruit for the most part, so it's probably more wasted than anything else.

Here's our lunch menu. As far as I can see, it's "kiddie food" heaven. My son packs his lunch. I haven't made a stink about the school lunches, because I honestly think it would fall on deaf ears.

Here is our district's menu for elementary students this week. Some things on here look ok, others not so ok (pancake sausage on a stick? WTF? That is what Jon Stewart has been making fun of in recent months). Wrapped cheese dog? Etc.

I love "Popular" Bean & Cheese Burrito. Is that opposed to the Outcast Burrito? Nerd or Geek Burrito? You can see a bunch of school menus from around the country at It's interesting to compare more affluent districts with the inner city menus, and also to check on what's available in neighboring districts.

October Lunch Menu for our district's elementary schools.

Our menus look great on paper. For example "California burger, fresh fixin's, oven fries." But there are two problems. First, every day has an alternate entree. On California Burger Day, the alternate is fish sticks. Guess what the kids choose? Also, the kids pick whichever side items they like from the lunch line, so how many of them are eating those fresh fixin's?

As for affluent schools vs. others, I looked up the menu at an expensive private school nearby. It was FAR worse than our public school. "Cheeseburger, fries, ice cream; Mac'n'cheese, corn dogs, pudding." The real kicker was the price: $4 a day! Unbelievable!

Here is ours: Nightmare!! We send lunch.

My daughter attends a private, parochial school. She doesn't yet eat lunch there, but I still get there menu. It's as atrocious (if not worse) than the one you posted: pizza, hot dogs, tacos, rinse, lather, repeat. She and her sister will be carrying their lunches.

I don't have kids, but spotted this in the local paper:
"BHS initiates fresh produce lunch program"

Overall encouraging, but for the ending:
“'We want to establish it first at the high school. We’ll see student reaction to it – if they like it; if they even notice,' said Whittier."

It seems to me that the younger you catch them, the better results you'll get. I'd hate for the program to be discontinued just because the hardened teenagers continue to choose chips and fries over novel veggies.

Of course, if you live in a different country, say one in Europe, or Australia, things are a bit different:

Last week's lunch was Moroccan beef and vegetables over couscous and chocolate cake for dessert, with dried fruit for afternoon tea. In the past, they've done baked chicken, moussaka, roasted vegetable sandwiches, etc., etc., etc. I keep wanting to finagle a lunch invite! (Australia)

I don't have a blog to post this on, but I thought you might be interested in what my son gets to eat at his public pre-school, since we live in Germany. The kids bring their own breakfasts, which consist generally of whole grain bread, lunch meat and cheese - all real, no Kraft Singles in this country, thankfully. They each also bring a piece of fruit that is shared for morning snack. Lunch and afternoon snack are provided by the school. Here's this week's menu:

Mon L: mini-spaghetti with bolognese sauce, raw veggie salad
Mon S: chocolate cornflakes with milk, pears
Tue L: scrambled eggs, spinach, potatoes, yogurt
Tue S: spongecake with fruit
Wed L: greenbean stew, 1/2 roll, fruit
Wed S: applecake
Thu L: roasted white fish with dill sauce, potatoes, raw veggie salad
Thu S: rye bread with butter, turkey salami, kohlrabi
Fri L: cauliflower-cheese medallions with carrot sauce, mashed potatoes, chocolate pudding
Fri S: whole grain bread, egg salad and chives, mandarines

The school guarantees that all the food they provide is additive-free. I'm interested to know what kids in the States drink at pre-school - do they give them lots of soda and juice? Here kids drink mainly water and herbal tea. I'm quite happy with the meals they provide and live in fear of the school lunch situation when/if we do return home to the States. (Germany)

And, of course, the menu that started this "survey," France.
So, what do we do? Many parents choose to pack lunches, which solves the issue for their children. On a larger level, there are far too many children in our country who qualify for the school lunch program for free due to poverty, and these meals are likely the healthiest and best option they get all day. We all stand to benefit by changing school lunches for the better.

Way over at the other end of the spectrum, there are schools and programs that are innovative and that bring food and nutrition not just into the lunchroom, but into the classroom. These are the schools that have gardens and hands-on food curriculum as well as those who participate in farm-to-school programs. My thought is, if a few schools can do it, the others can find a way. Especially if we push them toward it. In the coming weeks, I will post resources and information on steps to take as well as success stories and great examples you can share with your school. Until then, Bon Apetit!


jen said...

whoa. some of it seems so creative and some of it, well...ick.

Ed Bruske said...

at the private elementary school where I teach "food appreciation" in the afternoons, they do not have cooking facilties and require the kids to bring their own food. You should see some of the crap the parents put in their kid's lunch. And this at a school where the tuition is $25,000

The Expatriate Chef said...

True, parents suffer from the convenience approach as well. There is a whole aisle at the supermarket called "lunchbox" and it's chips and packaged foods. I hope to work on some easy, make ahead brown bag ideas as well.

Rachel said...

your green chips recipe would work well in a bag lunch, B.

frugalmom said...

Our menu is crap. CRAP. I was even on the food advisory committee in hopes to change things anyway that I could, but they are so interested in convenience that any new ideas that take a little time get lost or better yet, thrown out. It is so dang frustrating. I send my kids with lunches....that they pack. They know the rules. They have to pack something from each food group in their sack. I must say that they do really well. It did take some time to teach them, but it was well worth it. Especially when they come home and say that so and so brought cheese nips and ding dongs and choc milk for her lunch. I feel sad for her, mom. I say don't feel sad for her, honey. Maybe offer her something of yours to try instead and then maybe one person at a time you can help teach how to eat a little different.

The Expatriate Chef said...

You've got great kids, Frugal Mom!

Yeah, parents are part of the issue, definitely. We've all got trapped into this convenient, cheap food concept, and it has done a lot of harm.

katiez said...

I went to a Catholic school in a very small town. When they started a 'hot lunch' program it was with food and labor donated by the families. We ate very well - but no choices. We were handed a plate. I'm sure the FDA wouldn't allow that now!
Have there been any studies between bad school diet and bad school behavior?

The Expatriate Chef said...

Yes, there have been studies. Most of it has to do with the ala carte items like soda, candy and junk food. But the poor lunch is also a culprit. Poor attention span, etc. I will look for some links. There is a bit in my posts on child nutrition that discuss schools as well.