‘When I was a kid’ (to start off with a fogeyism), the hotÂ lunches served in the brand-spanking-new, built-during-the-summer-after-2nd-gradeÂ cafeteria,Â were pretty good (as wereÂ theÂ ‘cold’ lunches Mom made for me during 1st and 2nd gradeÂ using homemade bread for the sandwiches).Â
In elementary school, my favorite cafeteriaÂ meals were the sloppy joes, or the homemade chili,Â accompanied by aÂ dessert consistingÂ of a still-warmÂ freshly-baked yeast-bread cinnamon roll.Â My unfavorite cafeteria meals were the ones withÂ cooked spinach (slime!), unsweetened grapefruit sections (sour!), or USDA-surplus peanut-butter sandwiches (dry superglue!)Â I ate them all because that school had a clean-your-tray policy to go with the boy-girl-boy-girl seating, and the no-talking-at-lunch rules.Â Still, the food was tasty, and I looked forward to lunchÂ — aside from the days when we were served one of the Terrible Trio.
In 8th & 9th grades I was at a different school, and here the best meals were seafood:Â fried shrimp, andÂ shrimp Creole (it was inÂ Bermuda, so of course the best meals were seafood).Â Â Recently, when I wasÂ trying to recreate the taste of it IÂ gotÂ the secret, Cajun roux,Â from a schoolÂ alumna whoÂ was at the school after my family transferred.Â Â Using roux (technical term in the recipe was "coonass juice") is the way her mom makes shrimp Creole, and it must’ve beenÂ the way those Bermudian cafeteria ladies made it, too.Â That rouxÂ makesÂ my shrimp Creole tasteÂ wonderful.
In high school (yet another school — military family), the best meal was the one with hot, freshly-baked whole wheat rolls.Â Kids who’d brought their lunchesÂ would cadge empty trays from those who’d bought lunches, because in order to get ‘seconds’ (‘firsts’ for the cadgers)Â you had to have bought a lunch in the first place.Â The condiment for the rollsÂ was honey, put out on the tables in bowlsÂ and to whichÂ we all helped ourselves.Â I’m surprised that after that meal the trays were able to be pried off those stickyÂ cafeteria tables.Â (and can you imagine open bowls of honey nowadays?)
I was lucky in that I went to school when the lunches were cooked on-site.Â My own kids weren’t so lucky as the ones they were served in school were prepared off-site and trucked in.Â Â The food selection — fed to my children’s classmates –Â was one of the defining moments in my decision to homeschool ("What do you mean he bought six doughnuts and a coke?Â You’re first graders!").Â
Christopher Kimball of Cook’s IllustratedÂ magazine, is no happier about the lunch selections at his local schools than I wasÂ about the food served byÂ my kids’ schools.
- Cook’s Illustrated, October, 2005 e-Notes, The Junk in School Lunches
One of America’s greatest shortcomings is the triumph of commerce over culture even when it affects the health and well-being of the next generation. For the most part, public schools have abdicated their sacred role as guardians of our children’s minds and bodies and have succumbed to the lure of either budgetary pressures (one large school district in Colorado signed a $10 million pouring rights deal with Coca Cola) or simple convenience.
Boston’s Mayor Thomas Menino is the self-proclaimed education mayor. Our nation’s first lady is a former teacher and advocate for better schools. We’ve all heard speeches galore about the quality (or lack thereof) of public school education. Yet our kids are nothing more than a gigantic captive market for our nation’s fast-food industry and dumping ground for low-quality USDA surplus.
Of course parents can send nutritious box lunches to schoolÂ with their children, and many of us did, even when the kids were razzed about eating "health food" even when whatÂ was sent was merely healthy food (although I’m still apologizing for that Tupperware container of sardines — he never told me before that day that he didn’t like them).Â
At home, though, there is no razzing, and no off-site food trucked in and kept warm on steam-tables.Â Also, ifÂ people don’t like sardines, they can say so before it’s too late.
Lunch:Â another reason to homeschool.