Today I am happy to present my first Guest Blogger, a man who I had the good sense to marry more than 30 years ago. He’s a great cook, an even better baker, and he’s got a message for moms of public school children everywhere.
Call me the Lunchroom Lady. Everybody else does.
I’ve worked in food service nearly all my life. I started in 1974 as a 12-year old dishwasher, at a dive called the “Mouse Trap” in Steamboat Springs, CO. In 1979, at the ripe old age of 17, I joined the Marine Corps and was handed an apron along with my rifle, and I’ve been cooking ever since (for those like my lovely bride who find themselves numerically challenged, it’s been 35 years!). For the past 12 years I have been working in food service at a public school in northern Virginia.
I think I am qualified to talk about school lunches.
Over the past couple of years I have read stories about and seen pictures of disgusting school lunches. Their poor quality was blamed on the implementation of The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act. Last night I read a story accompanied by a not-so-flattering picture of a school lunch recently served in Portsmouth, VA. Though I agree that the meal in question was sketchy at best, I would implore you not to judge all public school lunches and school nutrition workers by these incidents. I would never serve that to my own child (who is still in school) let alone someone else’s, and I’m pretty sure most of my fellow food service managers wouldn’t either.
I take my responsibility seriously. Feeding your children is my ministry. Students do not get in way of my job; they are the reason my job exists. Sixty percent of our students receive free or reduced price meals and I strongly believe that for many of these kids, the food we provide is all the food they eat that day or at least a large portion of it.
When I saw this picture, I felt ashamed, embarrassed and disappointed. I am ashamed that my fellow school nutrition workers would serve it. I am embarrassed because this type of story can cause people to cast us all in the same light. And I am disappointed that the Food Services Coordinator, when questioned, blamed poor lighting and presentation. A wise man once told me, “no matter how much lipstick you put on a pig. . . ” The blame for this meal rests squarely on the shoulders of the Portsmouth, VA Public Schools Food Services Coordinator and the cafeteria staff that prepared and served it.
The new regulations are not the culprit, nor do they justify poor service.
Lunches served in public schools under The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act were never intended to be, nor will they ever be 5-star meals. They are meant to be good, basic and nutritional. It can be a challenge but it is not impossible to find foods that meet the requirements of the new legislation and the expectations of our students.
I’d like to believe that in her heart, Michelle Obama meant well (insert a picture here of me laughing hysterically) when she championed The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act and the resulting changes. Keep in mind that these changes affect only those public schools that participate in the USDA’s National School Lunch Program. Private schools and public schools that opt out of the program are not bound by the same dietary restrictions. However, no amount of government intrusion gives us the right to offer anything less than our best efforts in trying to serve good meals.
The impetus behind The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act is that by some accounts one in three young Americans are overweight or obese and school cafeterias were chosen to be the front line to fight this battle.
I do not believe that school lunches are responsible for making our kids unhealthy. Our lifestyle does. We need to get our kids away from computers, TV’s and game consoles, and away from fast food, junk food, and sugar-filled drinks. We need to get our kids out of the house. Teach them joys and benefits of hiking, biking and running. If we don’t do more to change their overall lifestyles, then our kids will be overweight no matter how many fruits, veggies and whole grains we offer at school.
I am not in favor of the federal government telling us how and what to feed our kids. We should serve the best meals possible because it is the right thing to do, not because Big Brother is watching. I encourage all parents to be involved in the meals your kids eat at school. Be aware of what is on the menu; ask your children if the menu matches what is being offered. Visit your school and have lunch with your children. Take any concerns to your school’s cafeteria manager. We appreciate your input and if something is wrong, we will work to set it right.
The meal to the right was not created for this blog. This is what my staff served on fish day at our school. The lighting is a lot better in our meals, don’t you think?
As much as I have enjoyed cutting in on the Portrait Writer’s space, you’ll have to excuse me. I’m expecting about 625 guests for lunch. That’s a whole lotta’ fruits, veggies, whole grains, and . . . well, you get the picture.
“Slaves, obey your earthly masters in everything; and do it, not only when their eye is on you and to curry their favor, but with sincerity of heart and reverence for the Lord.” — Colossians 3:22