Every school year, I make a point to have lunch with my son and try whatever meal is on the menu for that day. On my most recent visit, the school lunch menu included the following entrees:
- Chicken Teriyaki
- Hot Dogs
- Garden Salad
I was glad to see that there was a salad option available, but the stacks of salads in the cooler let me know that it wasn’t a popular option.
“The kids rarely get the salad,” said the cafeteria worker. “We mostly sell them to teachers and parents.”
Not surprisingly, the hot dogs were the most popular among the kids.
I decided to buck the trend and try the chicken teriyaki. The lunch cost $3.50 and came with an entree, two sides (fruit and vegetables), a dessert, and a drink (milk or bottled water). I skipped the dessert and got an package of baby carrots instead.
As I went through the line, I watched several kids refuse the vegetables and get an extra cookie or ice cream.
After I paid for my meal, I went to sit down with my son. He looked at my tray and his face contorted with disgust.
“Ew!” he said. “Are you really going to eat that?”
“Yes,” I said. “I’m going to eat it.”
“Good luck with that,” he said.
I ignored my son’s negative comments and proceeded to taste each item. I liked that the rice was cooked with additional vegetables to make it healthier, however, the extra vegetable did nothing to improve the flavor. It was bland and mushy. Speaking of mushy, that is the best compliment I can give the peas. I’ve never been a big fan of peas and these did nothing to change my opinion.
Next I tried the chicken teriyaki. It was rubbery and sweet. Too sweet, in fact. It tasted like someone had laced the teriyaki sauce with a cup of corn syrup.
As I struggled to forced down my lunch, I noticed my son’s shaking his head.
“I told you it wouldn’t taste good,” he said.
I decided to admit defeat. I simply could not eat another bite of the rice, chicken, or peas. I did manage to finish the pineapples (obviously canned) and carrots (crunchy, but totally lacking flavor).
Although the food wasn’t up to par, I have to commend the cafeteria staff for trying to promote helping eating. Even though the kids kept refusing the vegetables and fruit, the staff continued to encourage them to try them.
I also like that the staff installed a Sharing Table in the cafeteria to prevent food waste and make it easier for kids who are hungry to get something to eat without embarrassment. On the day I visited, the table was filled with bananas and boxes of raisins. My son told me that cookies and chips usually go fast when they’re available on the table. Fruits and vegetables moved a little slower. I’m just glad that the staff is making an effort to teach the kids the importance of sharing and reducing waste.
While I was dissatisfied with the lunch I sampled, I have to admit that public school lunches have improved significantly from when I was a kid. However, they still have a long way to go.