Fresher School Lunch?

Remember school lunch when you were a kid? I do. Sure, we had hotdogs and frozen pizza quite often. Yes, the stew made me vomit, literally, all over the cafeteria table one day in elementary school. Maybe the vegetables were a bit, overcooked. But the homemade white rolls were always a hit. And it was understood in my family that a hot-cooked meal was good for me, always better than a cold sandwich. Now that I'm sending my own kids off to brave the school cafeteria, I'm not so sure anymore. The food pyramid has changed, I understand now that a vegetable is supposed to be recognizable, and I'm increasingly suspicious of food that's not grown organically. I've been trying to read up on school lunch quality, and I'm more perplexed than ever.

I heard some of the hype about celebrity chefs visiting schools. Then I felt encouraged when I heard about the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010. Sounds like at-risk kids are getting a bit more public money spent on feeding them at school. I see that the USDA is touting proposals for more fresh vegetables and whole grains at lunchtime. Even a provision for a pilot program for organic foods. It is encouraging to have a President and First Lady promoting fitness and nutrition for children. Yet, I wonder if these fantastic changes will really be at a school near me soon enough to make a difference for my kids. What if our school doesn't win one of the coveted grants for a pilot program? What if a celebrity chef doesn't think our school makes a good enough photo op? Will we be stuck with more frozen pizza?

I asked Andrew Smiley how his efforts in Central Texas are going with the Sustainable Food Center. This organization has helped with a pilot program that tries to match local or regional farmers with schools where children need fresh produce. He admits that not all of the foods are able to be organically certified, yet they're an improvement. He says the group has goals of expanding the program over the next three years.

Then there's the anonymous school where the mysterious Mrs. Q ate cafeteria lunch along with her students every day last year. She writes that many, many schools are still serving food like the stuff that sometimes made her feel ill. She inspires me to want to stop by and try school lunch for myself. Maybe packing a lunch box wouldn't be a bad idea, after all.

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