Fed Up: School Lunch Project

This blog, Fed Up: School Lunch Project, is getting some notice in different communities.  The premise – an anonymous Illinois school teacher who is eating the school lunch at her school Every day in 2010.  She pays $3 – photos and blogs the experience.  It is pretty sad.  It made me think about my own experiences in school cafeterias including growing up, my university experiences, my kids’ schools and my current workplace experiences.

I remember vaguely buying lunch in elementary school but I went to school basically two blocks from my grandmother’s house so when I was able I would go home for lunch – they let us do that in the 60’s.  I definitely remember lunch in Junior High (we didn’t have middle schools at the time in Oakland, Ca).  They made The Best cinnamon rolls anywhere – the smell would waft through the hallways and put Cinnabon to shame.  They also made these amazing enchiladas.  I generally brought lunch – my dad made these great lunches with slices of cheese and salami and crackers or mini salads… I honestly have no memories of having sandwiches for lunch.  I also absolutely do not remember EVER eating in the cafeteria in high school… which is always a funny thought to me. I don’t think I went in there once in three years.

College years – I lived in the dorms my first year at the University of Utah and ended up getting a part-time job in the cafeteria the first semester.  wow… That was an eye-opening experience.  This was 1976 so no fancy stations or salad bars or anything…. although I want to say that they did try a salad bar during the spring semester.  Basically it was like a regular hot cafeteria line – two entrees, three veg, starch, rolls, dessert.  I remember watching the workers LADLING the grease off of the mystery meat casseroles before serving. It was absolutely disgusting.  After working there about a two weeks. I “invented” the hot hoagie sandwich.  You could request a Bag lunch or dinner in the morning.  The choice was Mixed cold cut (bologna, ham, pepperoni, cheese), ham, or roast beef with lettuce & tomato.  There was also a bag of chips, some type of fresh fruit and a cookie.  I would request this pretty much every day and would bring it back to the dorm – I would open up the sandwich, remove the lettuce and tomato, and put the meat and bread under the broiler in the oven (we had a small communal kitchen on every floor in my dorm) to get it all melty and toasty – put back on the lettuce and tomato and have a relatively healthy meal, especially in comparison to the grease filled casseroles and gravy covered meats they offered.  The funny part was when other people saw what I was doing there was a RASH of Bag Dinner orders.  (smile)

My kids generally took their lunch but when they did buy they were pretty specific about what menu items they liked.  One thing to know, my first husband was in the Navy so my son went to several different elementary schools.  He went to three different schools for second grade alone.  That was an interesting experience – the first school was in Newport, RI and they didn’t have a kitchen in the school.  The food was made at the local high school and trucked over.  So the pizza or any warm foods were lukewarm at best.  My all-time Favorite story: the day after Halloween I sent my son to school with a ham sandwich, chips, carrot sticks, an apple and TWO pieces of Halloween candy (those mini bars of chocolate).  He returned home with the candy and a note that said that they “do not allow children to bring in Halloween candy in their lunches”.  The BEST part – the lunch for that day, if he had bought, was MARSHMALLOW FLUFF and peanut butter sandwich with an apple and a cookie.  WTH????   That lunch was better ??  Totally made me angry and he never bought lunch again.  When we moved from Rhode Island to Stuarts Draft, VA for three months (before getting our final duty orders for Jacksonville, FL) the elementary school was really culture shock.  They rarely got a new student so my son was a bit of a novelty and the fact that he was born in Japan made him a bit of a celebrity.  But he still remembers and talks about the food.  They had full country breakfast each morning, somedays including biscuits and gravy – he really wanted to buy breakfast.  At lunch they also had REAL meals including fried chicken, mashed potatoes and green beans.  And… the food was good.  The rest of my kids cafeteria experiences definitely did not compare although there were always a few meals they liked to get – tacos, French-bread pizza, lasagna.  When they were in elementary school, the school would do a Parents Lunch week – you could come and have lunch with your child (you could do that basically anytime but this was special)… my kids still tease me because I would only go on the day that they served stuffed shells – they were really good!

I currently work at Stevenson University in Baltimore, Md.  We have two campuses.  When I started at the University we had just one campus (then Villa Julie College).  The cafeteria was pretty standard with an offering of burgers, fries, deli sandwiches, salad bar, and a hot lunch: meat, starch, veg.  The food wasn’t always great but was eatable and some meals were better than others.  The one thing I really liked was that I could get large cup of homemade soup for about $2.50… I love soup and with some crackers it was very satisfying.  This sort of setup still exists on that campus along with the addition of a take-away sandwich/salad stand in another location.  I am now on the Owings Mills Campus and my office is in the same building as our main dining facilities.  We have a food station setup for the residents but anyone can pay a standard fee to enter.  It is the traditional All You Can Eat setup with a salad bar, grill cook station (for things like fajitas, which changes daily), burgers, fries, a pasta station, pizzas, fresh made deli sandwiches, and a hot homestyle meal station with meat, starch and a choice of three veg.  Outside the AYCE area is also an “Italian” eatery with small pizzas, made to order sandwiches, and pasta.  I think, this year, I have eaten downstairs ONCE.. I have found that I am gluten-resistent and, frankly… it’s just too much money to spend to find out that there is nothing I can eat but salad.  The students complain about the food but generally I think the food is good and healthy.  The company definitely tries to offer healthy choices and varieties.  I do wish there was a gluten-free option Every day besides salad though.

Thanks to Joyce Slaton from CHOW.com for pointing out this article… it brought back lots of memories.

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