Some federally mandated changes to the school lunch program have brought school cafeterias nationwide to the conversational forefront as parents, administrators and kids discuss what, if any, effects these changes could have.
The purpose of the menu revamp, according to the USDA Office of Communications, is to provide ‘healthier meals for kids across the nation.’
The guidelines have not changed things significantly, but have shaved down some portion sizes while increasing the amount and variety of fruits and vegetables.
I visited the middle school and high school cafeterias this week to get a taste of both the food and the students’ opinions toward it, and was not surprised to find mixed reviews.
What I was surprised to find was a restaurant-quality meal far removed from what I can recall eating as a student myself.
The menu included fish sticks or pizza, a twist on traditional macaroni and cheese made with rotini pasta, green beans and a variety of fresh fruits including watermelon, grapes and whole strawberries. Also available were large, colorful prepared salads and fruit salads and a variety of drink options like skim chocolate, strawberry of plain milk, water or sports drinks.
I talked with a group of students while we ate, and found that while they like the chicken, hot pockets, and, for the most part, the salads, they sincerely miss the rolls and wish there were more potatoes. Just not the sweet potatoes, which the vast majority of students cited as their most despised offering yet.
Interestingly, the middle school students were highly receptive to the changes and were widely complimentary of the meals, while the high schoolers - who were eating the same thing - seemed downright displeased to the point of planning a schoolwide boycott on the food.
One teacher suggested that a lack of food variety at home may explain their hesitance to try it at school, particularly for the older kids who tend to be less adaptable. She continued on to say,”they don’t get it at home, so when it’s shoved in front of them here, they don’t like it.”
Principal Jim Blain at GCMS said that his students have been “pretty positive overall, especially the sixth graders.”
Blaine explained that kids at this age are “starting to think a little more about being health-conscious and about nutrition,” and they like the idea of healthier lunch offerings.