From 2nd through 8th grade, I went to school in a rural community. Lunch there was the same for everybody: meat, starch, veg, and dessert with a glass of milk. Well, okay, not for everybody. John was lactose intolerant, so he got water. But everything else was the same. I remember hot turkey sandwiches with mashed potatoes. Ketchup-coated meatloaf with cheese-topped mashed potatoes. My least favorite lunches included sloppy joes or sauerkraut. Karen would eat the sauerkraut, so the rest of us would put it in our hands and pass it to her under the table. Sloppy joes were not as easily passed, so we had to find ways to make them edible enough to get through half. My dad was the janitor there, and he can tell you about the canned peaches that were served. Or, in his words, “those damn slimy peaches”. To this day, I still don’t think he’ll eat canned peaches.
When I started high school, we moved to a larger town with a more “traditional” school lunch program. We had the regular school lunch line, with foods that most of us wouldn’t eat, and the pizza and burger line, filled with rubbery pizza and what appeared to be cardboard cutouts of burgers. My junior year saw the installation of a salad bar. If I did manage to eat school lunch, it was from the salad bar. More typically, it was a Dr. Pepper and Grandma’s chocolate chip cookies from the vending machine (sorry, Mom). The salad bar was a definite improvement and gave us the opportunity to eat something that resembled food. Many schools are “considering” this route, and I highly encourage it. Food service managers can say that kids won’t eat vegetables, but that’s because the vegetables they’re usually given have been overcooked to the point of grey mushiness. Or the vegetable is ketchup.
One of my favorite blogs is Fed Up with Lunch: The School Lunch Project. Mrs. Q eats school lunch every day, then photographs it and provides commentary. Most of what she eats falls squarely in the classification of “beige food”. Mrs. Q also allows guest bloggers. My favorite guest blogger is a resident of Toulouse, France, and provided a link to Toulouse’s website, where you can find school lunch menus all the way back to January. I had to take a look. Honestly, I nearly cried. I then called Vince and read some of the menus to him. He nearly cried. He also asked where these meals were when we were kids. Why don’t we deserve good food? I’ve decided to provide some sample menus as well. If you’d like to try your hand at reading them in French, they can be found here. Otherwise, please to enjoy in English.
Mache and beet salad
Organic apple tart
Organic roast chicken
Radishes with butter
Salmon with sorrel sauce
Hamburger steak with tomato sauce
Peaches in syrup
Ham or Fish sauteed in butter
Other weeks, the kids got veal marengo, lamb curry, and beef stew. If the kids are eating school lunch, this is what they’re getting. If they don’t want what’s on the menu, they can bring their own lunch. No one is pandering to their tastes by saying, “Kids don’t want salmon in sorrel sauce, so we provide them with nachos and chicken nuggets.” The kids eat the salmon in sorrel sauce, and they grow up to have experienced a wider range of tastes. They’re also less likely to be picky eaters. Just ask LA about that.
I’m not saying that we have to take on the French menus in our schools. Maybe accept the spirit of what they do. We don’t have to serve our kids crap because it’s cheap and we think it’s all they will eat. Offer them something that actually looks appetizing (grey peas are no one’s idea of appetizing) and see what happens. You never know, we might end up with kids who like eating vegetables more than Flamin’ Hot Cheetos covered in nacho cheese.