We took our lunch to school or went home a great deal as children. Eating in the cafeteria was a treat, especially as our grandmother lived right across the street. School food was fairly good, even if it did have a little more fat, salt and sugar than was strictly good.
When our children went to school, the lunches weren’t that great. If you can see a tablespoon of oil in the center of the pizza, it might have just a little too much fat in it. Salads were mostly rusty iceberg lettuce. This did not encourage the kids to eat, even though it wasn’t healthy food.
I think all of us need to come up with a plan that allows for good tasting healthy food that can be made on a school’s budget. The three don’t have to be mutually exclusive. Let’s see if this plan works:
Define healthy food: Low fat meats, plenty of fresh vegetables, whole grains and choices of beverages other than milk are healthy. Pizza that needs to drip dry is not healthy. Food that doesn’t get eaten is not only bad for the child, it wastes what could have been turned into something edible.
Examine the budget: As a homemaker, I have to do this regularly. My budget is limited because we are a one income household. I have to make my money stretch and still prepare healthy foods. Our medical conditions demand that. If I can do it, certainly a school should be able to do so.
Get bids: If one company wants to sell you healthy food for premium dollars, look for others. Make sure all of the companies know that you, the school, are going to comparison shop. There’s nothing like competition to get prices where they should be.
Inspection: Don’t take the manufacturers at their word that the food they send you is fresh, healthy and useful. Go and look the premises over. Ask to see the meat and veggies. If it doesn’t look like something you’d put on your dinner table, don’t put it on a cafeteria tray.
Cooking: Here is where there is a difference in the comparison between home cooking and school cooking. At home, the number of people needing to eat is fairly limited. At school, there may be hundreds of children needing the food. That’s not an excuse for serving food that tastes bad.
Anyone can slap some raw vegetables, whole grain bread and a wimpy piece of unseasoned dry chicken on a tray. With a little effort, you can have some crispy raw vegetables with a low (or non) fat salad dressing, a warm, soft roll and a well seasoned properly cooked chicken. What changes would that mean?
Seasoning: It’s not an alternative unless you want the kids to dump the food. Dill tastes really great with green beans and most fish. Basil is great in most Italian type pasta dishes. Young children may be unable to handle a lot of garlic or black pepper, but that can be worked around.
Dressings and Sauces: Once upon a time, these would have been considered unhealthy. They had a lot of sodium and fat. Now there are brands that are fat free and low sodium. If all else fails, it takes about fifteen minutes to whisk together an oil and vinegar dressing for a couple hundred meals. Why do I time it like that? It takes me about twenty seconds to make if for my family.
Fresh is Best: As mentioned above, we have given our kids some really nasty salad greens in the past. The fresher the salad is, the better. If you let the companies that help you cater the school’s food know you require regular deliveries of fresh food…and still on the budget…they may very well be willing.
This is my opinion. I am voicing it because I am sick and tired of whiny adults pushing our children back towards unhealthy eating because they won’t take the time and/or spend the money to provide tasty, healthy food. If I can do it on a dime, you should be able to do it for a nickel.