Thursday, April 15, 2010

Rethinking School Lunch

Let's get rid of this stuff!

If you have been inspired to do something about school lunch and want to learn more about the issues related to changing your school lunch program, start by reading the Rethinking School Lunch Guide.  Available for download online and completely free, I turned to it when I first started working in my school kitchen.  Trying to “rethink” my school lunch without much guidance, it became my go-to-source for advice.  The Rethinking School Lunch Guide comes from the Center for Ecoliteracy.  
The Guide has two basic premises:

1. Frozen, preprocessed, and canned foods in lunch are unacceptable.  We should adopt an alternative, a "farm-to-school model, which provides fresh food from local, sustainable family farms.  Meals are prepared using fresh, seasonal, sustainably grown produce and products from local and regional sources.” 

2. The idea that lunch is an isolated meal without relevance to the rest of the school day or the world is also unacceptable.  The guide emphasizes an "integrated curriculum approach. It connect students to their food source through meals and field trips, improve the nutritional content and quality of food in schools, and help local farmers remain economically viable."  

With these two ideas, it discusses change in the context of ten interrelated subjects: Food Policy; Curriculum Integration; Food and Health; Finances; Facilities Design; The Dining Experience; Professional Development; Procurement; Waste Management; Marketing and Communications

Full of advice from people affecting change and sources for more information, the guide covers all the possible topics I could think of that are needed for change.  When I presented my head-of-school with a proposal for changing lunch after I started working at my school, I summarized the guide in four pages and turned each topic into question-and-answer format specific to the issues of my school. 



  1. The first idea is an extremely facile premise, and utterly fails to take into account the realities of infrastructure, access, and arability in a country of this size and diversity of climate. What, might I ask, are the children who go to school in southern Arizona going to eat for lunch? Prickly pears? How many family farms do you see in the Sonoran desert? How about northern Maine in the middle of winter? Turnips and cod cheeks? Sounds delicious, sign me up! People who relied on only what was grown around them (i.e. all of humanity for the first 100,000 years of our existence) died of malnutrition at relatively young ages.

    Frozen and cannned food is perfectly acceptable: I can pick fruits and vegetables in the Fall, flash-freeze or can them, and have them available to me through the Winter, Spring, and Summer before next years' crops become available (for what its worth, the highest instances of death from malnutrion in Medieval Europe happened during the summer, when animals were too young for slaughter and vegetables hadn't ripened yet.)

    Unsurprisingly, this group is located in Berkely, CA with plenty of arable soil, uncontaminated groundwater, and a year-round temperate climate when "seasonal" food actually exists for more than two seasons. To suggest that people in non-temperate climates or in areas with non-arable soil should have to make do without frozen or canned food would necessarly condemm them to malnutrition, given that their food has to come from somewhere other than "local" and must be frozen or canned to survive the shipping.

  2. My only comment is that frozen vegetables are perfectly appropriate. In fact, in Winter they are probably nutritionally superior to flown in "fresh' vegetables. I agree that frozen PROCESSED foods are unacceptable, but vegetables (and even non-processed meat) are OK if they are frozen.

  3. KitchenGirl, I agree with you in many respects, but give the guide a chance! You're right, not every school in the country has access or the funds for the "ideal" lunch. My school gets the vast majority of our food from non-local sources and will certainly continue that way for the foreseeable future. There's still plenty of advice from school lunch advocates, leaders, and food service directors from across the country that could help any school improve on their current situation.

  4. I live in Nebraska so the option of fresh, locally grown food year round is simply not there but I'm very interested to see what the guide says and find other ways to change our school lunches!

    My 10 yr old sister says her school is trying to ban chocolate milk while saying that fried cheese sticks is still an acceptable lunch option!

  5. I want to know what the hell those smiley face things are... I'm not sure I would have eaten them as a kid!

    For the "not available" argument.... there are a lot of vegetables that keep very well over the long, hard winter: potatoes, apples, carrots, cabbage, turnips, beets, dried legumes, hard squash, grain, dried fruit. I think the "no frozen" refers to frozen entrees not fresh frozen produce. A kid in Aroostick county, ME could add practically every sort of frozen berry and vegetable to their school diet as Maine has many excellent family farms... some of which have winter greenhouses, I'm sure.

    I've lived in Arizona too.... think citrus, pomegranates, nuts, nepalitos, corn, beans, squash, winter-grown greens, tomatoes... all manner of vegetables are grown in the fertile river valleys. For either location, meat is season neutral.

    I think "local" is a malleable concept. Here in SW VA that means raised in the county. In arid Arizona or the frozen north that might mean "in state" or "regional" rather than shipped across the country.

  6. I had to ask too..what are those smiley things? It looks like mozzarella, but that can't be right?? I do love your blog!Kitchengirl...could your school get a greenhouse? Not to supply the entire cafeteria...but to supplement on somedays? I know that sounds super-expensive, but there are some grants available and it could be a reality eventually. At least, that's what I keep telling myself...I know they make some for climates like southern Arizona that cool as well. (I'm not suggesting at all you try to cram a bunch of kids in a hot glass box to grow veggies in the desert...) If you want, you can get in contact me and I'll share with you what I have as far as grants...

  7. Haha, when I glanced at the photo very briefly I thought they were trays of cookies... and I did think 'Wow, they want to get rid of cookies?!'

  8. Those smiley faces are a potato conglomeration.

    My brother feeds those crappy things to my nephew a few times a week.

    They're awful but they are smiley faces so kids like them. Maybe we should shape asparagus into smiley faces.