Want to piss off a bunch of people? Tell them you think they feed their kids junk. And because of that, from now on, you get to decide what they eat. That's what happened last year at Chicago's Little Village Academy where Principal Elsa Carmona prohibited kids from bringing their own lunch to school. That's right, they were allowed to feast only on cafeteria food.
How did the parents and kids feel about this policy? They McHated it.
"Nutrition-wise, it is better for the children to eat at the school," Carmona told the Chicago Tribune. "It's milk versus a Coke."
I think this raises an interesting point. Oftentimes, a school lunch is the only decent meal a kid gets all day. Amid constant criticism, healthy upgrades have been made in the cafeteria line over the past few years. Are lunch trays perfect? No. Are they better than a Pop Tart? Of course.
I caught up with Dora Rivas, executive food director of Child and Nutrition Services at DISD to find out what she's got cooking for her 155,000 Dallas public school students this year.
"We have added some new items including more fresh fruits and vegetables," Rivas said. "All of our breads, rice and pastas are whole-grain. Some of the new items this year are really tasty, like chicken tetrazzini, burrito grande, and a veggie tidbits salad [broccoli-raisin salad] that is really delicious."
Students can also opt for other things instead of the standard lunch tray offering, such as salad plates, sandwiches and a variety of vegetarian dishes like hummus, black bean burgers and yogurt parfaits.
Rivas wishes more parents would give school lunches a try.
"Our meals are healthier than ever and the prices have stayed at $1.50 paid price," she said. "Some of the menu items sound the same but recipes have been improved to meet students tastes as well as meet the goal of lowering fat, sugar and sodium. Over 600 of our employees attended a culinary training workshop in efforts to focus on improving quality of the meals served."
For the past few years, DISD has participated in the USDA HealthierUS School Challenge, which gives schools a model for providing better nutrition options and promoting physical activity.
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Realizing that some children may want to pack their lunch, Rivas asked that parents focus on nutrient dense items and avoid foods that have empty calories, like fruit drinks.
Or a Coke.
Seeing as 155,000 students need to be fed every single day, sounds like a positive effort on the part of DISD. I eat a school lunch on occasion and am amazed how far things have come since back-in-the-day. And, who knows, if a kid plays their cards right, maybe they can trade up for a zebra cake from a sack lunch kid.