Saturday, May 15, 2010

Lunch Bunch

School lunches. For me they bring back fond memories of melamine trays, rectangle pizzas, & an Owatonna Public Schools delight: peanut butter cups. But times have changed. This is no longer the '80s, and I am no longer the blindly guided student. I've eaten school lunches from time-to-time as a teacher in Duluth, Austin, San Antonio & several Boston-area schools, always interested in how the locals dish it up. In San Antonio children eagerly gobbled up cornbread with jalapeños, and Bedford, Mass. never went a day without serving Fluffernutters. While I confess I never sampled either, the lunches I did try were par for the course, I guess.

But I'm not the one eating these lunches anymore, Abby will be. And as my school-teaching cousin, Shawn, pointed out, schools have changed a lot since I've been in the classroom.

We've done everything we need to do to get Abby ready for kindergarten next year. She has her shots, she is registered with all of the paperwork in place, and at preschool Mrs. Hart has been mentally gearing the children up for the responsibility that going to the big school will bring. But one thing remains, what about those school lunches? I'm confident Abby will handle herself well in the classroom, but in an effort to ward off any curve balls, I requested a chance to visit the school this spring for a sampling of the institute's cuisine.

The school was great about accommodating my request. We were given a menu and were invited to come by any day that worked for us. The lovelies and I arrived at school a few minutes early so we could grab our lunches and be seated before the chaos of the kindergarten lunchroom began.

The routine was simple, and the girls & I had the option of choosing from the main menu (that day happened to be cheeseburger), graham crackers & peanut butter, or Smucker's prepackaged Uncrustable peanut butter & jelly sandwich. The girls each opted for the pretty-packaged Uncrustables, I the luke-warm burger.

I remember my elementary school lunch days clearly. My cousin's grandma was one of our faithful cooks, and I distinctly remember feeling the need to compliment her on her culinary skills (after all, aren't all grandmas supposed to be great cooks?!) even though I thought the burgers were just okay. If my taste buds remember correctly, those burgers from the days of yore could be a Food Network sensation by comparison.

My intention isn't to call out Abby's new school for their crappy school lunches, as I'm sure they aren't much better, or much worse than most schools in America, but let's call a spade a spade.... it was less than savory.

The meal was "dished up" on styrofoam trays, and cold & mushy by the time it reached my mouth. The napkin (the quality of two sheets of gas station-grade toilet paper), spork & straw were wrapped in a little plastic bag. It was all like one disposable mass of semi-edible processed product. The girls did drink their milk and eat their fruit & their sodden french fries, but they left hungry; they hardly touched the Uncrustable. I left mildly filled from choking down my tray of nostalgia.

In the end, I accomplished my intention:
1. Introducing Abby (and Lauren) to the lunch room routine
2. Get a taste of school lunch

My girls are not picky eaters, so when they weren't interested, I knew it was bad. We still have a few months to mull it over. The truth is, if Abby wants to eat "hot" lunch, I will probably let her. But my mommy instinct screams loud in my head.... Pack that child's lunch. And that's what I will probably do. This way I know she is putting the good stuff into her body that she needs to get through the day, concentrate, learn & be productive.


So I'm making sure my children are receiving the best lunch possible. What about the other millions of school children in America? While it is true that their parents or guardians are ultimately responsible, I firmly believe that schools have a responsibility to provide a nutritious and well-balanced meal, especially with so many children on free or reduced lunch, or parents who do not have or make the time to pack a lunch for them. The subject was touched on in recent months in Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution: After revisiting school lunches, I know exactly why our country's school lunch system is in desperate need of an overhaul.

Another such quest for answers & change comes from the desk of Mrs. Q, a teacher in the Midwest who took on the challenge of eating school lunches for a year and blogging about her eye-opening experience:

Again I stress my intention is not to throw this school under the bus. As a parent & an educator this is a subject I feel passionately about. I'm not out to start my own food revolution, at least not yet anyways. For now it's become a topic of brainstorming to which I have the summer to come up with clever & nutritious ways to keep my school girl fed. So until then....

1 comment:

Susie said...

IN addition to healthy bag lunches you send to school with Abby, you could include bento styled lunches- fun, colorful, healthy!


{About Me}

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Fairborn, Ohio, United States
I'm a teacher by trade, writer at heart & mom in every sense of my being. I never considered writing as a profession, but after I got married and began moving around the country, I began sharing my adventures, misadventures & updates through a sort of e-mail newsletter. I found a true passion in unconventional story-telling that has followed me into motherhood.