C is for Cafeteria: A look at school lunches


Inside the school cafeteria

It’s just like you remember: loud and chaotic, lunch ladies in hairnets, pizza Fridays. The lines are long, the meat is still a mystery, and most of what’s brought from home gets tossed.

Less familiar are the trading bans and peanut-free zones to accommodate allergies, the absence of any actual cooking, and the runaway rates of childhood obesity and diabetes.

The National School Lunch Program provides commodities and subsidies to public and private schools that offer free or reduced-price meals. This year’s subsidy was $2.68 for each free lunch down to 25¢ for full-priced lunches. At that rate, most districts can afford food costs of about 90¢ for each lunch served.

Serving fast food rejects

The beef and chicken that the government provides to school lunch programs falls below the quality and safety standards of fast food restaurants and most commercial food processors. Were it not feeding the nation’s children, much of it would be processed into pet food or dumped as compost. Not surprisingly, food-borne illnesses and other contaminants are all too often on the menu.

Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010

School lunches have moved up to the front burner in the Obama administration. A bill moving toward a vote in the Senate outlines many of the needed reforms, although it falls short of funding them with an inadequate $4.5 billion over the next decade. The first lady has rallied support for her campaign against childhood obesity, with a special emphasis on the need to get healthier choices on those plastic cafeteria trays. And private citizens like celebrity chefs Alice Waters and Jamie Oliver have taken up the cause.

Here’s a closer look at what’s for lunch:

The online Food Museum has a nice visual history of school lunches, while a detailed summary can be found on the USDA website.

A brave woman with a strong stomach, Mrs Q is an anonymous teacher at an unnamed school somewhere in the midwest. She committed to eating what the kids eat in her school cafeteria every day of the 2009-2010 school year. She blogs about it at  Fed Up With Lunch: The School Lunch Project.

Groats in Slovakia, spicy squid in South Korea, and guinea fowl and a cheese course in France. What’s for School Lunch? takes you on an international lunchroom  tour with its collection of user-submitted lunch tray photos from the U.S. and abroad.

School Menu.com is assembling links to every lunchroom in every school district in the country.

Lunch Prepay is a resource that allows parents to apply funds to an online account for lunch purchases, and provides a mechanism for tracking their children’s  choices.

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3 Responses to C is for Cafeteria: A look at school lunches

  1. I don’t even know how I ended up here, but I thought this post was great. I don’t know who you are but definitely you are going to a famous blogger if you are not already 😉 Cheers!

  2. we use a national panasonic food processor and this seems to be a bang for the buck;`’

  3. Pingback: Gigabiting » Blog Archive » Culinary Crusaders: lending a hand in the volunteer kitchen

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