Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Lunch with little j

In my quest to design the perfect meatball sub, little j has assured me repeatedly that the ones at her school are delicious. I've waited patiently for several months for them to reappear on the menu. Finally today was the day. I threw out the food plan and made a date with little j.

I met her class in the hall on their way to the cafeteria and she was excited to have me there. Not excited enough to introduce me to all her friends, but she is a cool second grader, so I wasn't expecting too much recognition. I'd been in the cafeteria before, but not during lunch, so it was a little surprising when the smell hit me like a memory brick. Ahhh....the days of canned fruit and vegetables, mass quantities of government cheese, lunch ladies, and those little milks. Good times.

Yeah, it's all different now. Well, they still have all those things, but there were a couple of differences that I found downright irritating, if not disturbing. First, we didn't get the ubiquitous plastic trays. These trays looked the same but they were styrofoam. Styrofoam! Also, instead of scooping the sides onto the trays they were in plastic containers. So let's, just for a second, consider the massive waste going on here. little j did tell me that they only have those trays once a week when it is the dishwasher's day off. Still, it's unacceptable.

Second, they don't cook the food in the cafeteria. Rather, they cook the food in a centralized location and truck it to every school in the county. I don't know what I think of that. But it is what it is. Perhaps there aren't facilities at the other schools to cook, but I could clearly see the kitchen at little j's school.

Now to the food. It was, as one might expect, pretty bland. little j told me that the meatball subs weren't as good as they used to be. Good to know because they were pretty bad. The bun was essentially a whole wheat hot dog bun. The meatballs were dense little balls of flavorless beef (?), pork (?), mystery meat (?). And the sauce, well, I think they just opened up a can of tomato soup and dumped it over the meatballs. So, pretty mediocre at best. For my sides I chose green salad and pineapple. I will say that the green salad was good, but I didn't see the dressing and apparently if I had I wouldn't have wanted any (again, according to little j). The pineapple was your standard canned pineapple. little j chose salad and a Minute Made frozen juice thing. She rounded out her meal with chocolate milk.

But here's what I found particularly frustrating: for people who didn't choose the meatball sub there was the option of cheese bread sticks with dipping sauce (presumably the same "tomato soup" that they use for the subs). little j and I were about the only ones who chose meatball subs. So here's my question: other than the milk, where was the protein in the bread stick option?

I decided to talk to little j about making sure she eats a balanced lunch. I think she generally does make good choices, but I'm also sure there is time that her meal isn't as good as it could be. I know for a fact that she never chooses the vegetables because she has declared them "gross." This from a girl who loves her green veggies at home. That tells me something right there.

I'm torn between making waves and just worrying about little j because I know that the lunches the school serves is a lot better that what some kids get at home. On the other hand, they styrofoam, the plastic, the lack of balance! All things I'm concerned about, not just for little j, but for all the children at her school because if we start helping children understand how delicious healthy food can be at this age then hopefully they will make good choices as they get older.

And to the meatball sub -- I think I'll stick with my own recipe and work on finding some really good bread.

One more note: I can't believe I broke my food plan for that lunch! I did realize that I don't miss bread, so that's a good thing.

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