School Food: Making the Grade?

Given the ever-expanding girth of our nation’s obesity epidemic, there’s been a tremendous push to shape up school cafeteria food. Just get a load of these previous reports:
Keeping Junk-Food Out School...Problems
“The nutrition standards would allow only plain bottled water and eight-ounce servings of fruit juice or plain or flavored low-fat milk with up to 170 calories to be sold in elementary and middle schools. High school students could also buy diet soda or, in places like school gyms, sports drinks. Other drinks with as many as 66 calories per eight ounces could be sold in high schools, but that threshold would drop to 25 calories per eight-ounce serving in five years.”

School Kids Will Eat Well
“While serving better meals does entail higher labor costs, the study found, that's offset by lower costs for more nutritious foods such as fruits and vegetables compared with processed foods. However, many districts need to upgrade their kitchens and train their staff to prepare these foods, the researchers said.”

Salad Bar Schools
“According to San Francisco Unified School District, parents and students have been pushing for more fresh food to be available in school lunches, so a pilot program was initiated in three schools last year. The pilot schools performed so well that 15 new schools will have salad bars available this year. Another 10 campuses are expected to open their own salad bars by the end of the school year.”

Schools vs. Childhood Obesity
“Fast food, television, soft drinks and a sedentary lifestyle are seen as the main culprits of childhood obesity, and schools -- in the absence of action on the part of families -- are beginning to take a stand.”

Free Fruit Fridays
“Australia has its own problems with rising obesity and diabetes, and this fiber-loaded funding is more than just good stuff on Fridays. Premier John Brumby stated the Victorian plan is more comprehensive than a UK free fruit program that resulted in limited impact, per a published study last month in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health.”

School Kids Win Better Veggies
"A little boy said, `Anything, anything, I'll even eat broccoli,"' said Connie Duits, the lunch lady. "So that one touched my heart." The children were careful to offer praise as they expressed their concerns.”

Shaping Up School Food
"’The alarming increase in childhood obesity rates has galvanized parents and schools across the nation to find ways to improve children's diets and health, and we hope our report will assist that effort,’ said Virginia A. Stallings, chair of the committee that prepared the report.”

Soda Expelled From Schools

“The deal follows a wave of regulation by school districts and state legislatures to cut back on student consumption of soda amid reports of rising childhood obesity rates. Soda has been a particular target of those fighting obesity because of its caloric content and popularity among children.”
So keeping all this in mind, Emily Sweeney of The Boston Globe takes a look at local schools and sees how they’re ratcheting up their menus. Here’s a bit:
Lunch starts early at Weston High. Every day at 10:15 a.m., the first wave of students swarm into the school's sun-filled cafeteria for their half-hour lunch period. All of the food is cooked in the kitchen, staffed by seven women wearing dark crimson, collared shirts and black aprons. There is a full soup and salad bar, a broad assortment of Celestial Seasonings tea (cinnamon apple, cranberry apple, mint medley, orange and spice, lemon), and a deli where sandwiches are made to order on a variety of breads (multigrain, oat bran, honey oatmeal, and marble rye, to name a few)…

… Students pay $3 for a complete meal. The lunch menu changes every day, and can include a variety of dishes, such as quiche, Asian rice bowls, Normandy vegetables, Parker House rolls, and Cosmic Potatoes (baked potatoes cut into star and moon shapes). On Feb. 29, the featured dessert was "Leap Year cake" - a square piece of fluffy white cake topped with vanilla frosting - and the entree was baked salmon, wild rice, and warm spinach cooked in olive oil, salt, and pepper.
Well, I’m not exactly seeing drastic improvement here—tea, salt, and deli sandwiches—maybe another school is better. What about this one:
Today, students can choose from five lunches every day. They offer prepackaged Smuckers Uncrustable peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Bagel pizza. Salisbury steak and brown rice. Turkey nuggets. French fries. Fresh tossed salads.

The school's cafeteria staff tries to provide students with home-style cooking. Hall and her team make the salad dressing from scratch, by combining oil, vinegar, sugar, oregano, and garlic. They slice pita bread into triangles, brush them with oil, sprinkle them with oregano and garlic, and bake them in the oven until they are crispy. They prepare other dishes, such as Dominican rice, that often reflect the diverse student body. Sixty percent of East Boston High's enrollment is Hispanic.
Yeah, I’m failing to see the goodness here—pizza bagels, Salisbury steak, and French fries—okay, one last school. Here:
The cafeteria at Foxborough High school is staffed by six women, all of whom live in town. The head cook and manager is Nancy Siracusa, a 25-year cafeteria veteran who takes her job seriously, prides herself on the cleanliness of the school kitchen, and doesn't mince her words. "School lunch gets a bad rap," she said, recalling the time she watched a "Dateline" exposé on NBC in which former host Stone Phillips visited school lunchrooms…

…Siracusa and her team cook and serve 600 lunches a day. The meals are served on foam plates and cost $2. They have "Taco Tuesdays" and "Pasta Wednesdays." When the Globe visited March 3, the featured entree consisted of chicken nuggets with dipping sauce, rice pilaf, fresh celery stalks, carrot sticks, broccoli, fresh fruit, and milk. In addition, the staff prepares eight to 10 different hot sandwiches every day including chicken, spicy chicken, hamburgers, and cheeseburgers. They also make miniature, personal pan pizzas.
What the heck! Sure, the carrots, celery, and broccoli are good, but cheeseburgers, personal pan pizzas, and chicken nuggets. Sorry New England schools, you got more work to do!
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