I saw this on NY Times today and it really warmed my heart. Why? you may wonder. Aren't school lunch ladies supposed to make meals from scratch, serving up meatloaf or chicken tetrazzini or spaghetti that was whipped up that morning? Unfortunately, they don't.
Because of rising labor costs, lunch ladies don't cook from scratch very much anymore. A survey by the School Nutrition Association found that over 80 percent of schools cook less than half of their main dishes from scratch. And almost 40 percent of schools cook fewer than one-fourth of their entrees from scratch.
So where does the rest of the food come from? Commodity processing, of course! The government donates about $7 billion a year to school cafeterias for commodities, like flour, chicken, tomato paste, etc. That doesn't sound so bad, eh? But to make their dollars stretch further, the USDA gave the green light for these commodities to be processed, meaning that chicken could now become a chicken nugget.
Another problem facing school lunches has to do with per-meal reimbursement. Currently, the government reimburses schools $2.57 for every free meal served, $2.17 for every reduced-lunch, and $0.24 for every paid lunch they serve. The problem comes in that only about 70% of kids eligible for a free lunch actually buy one. That means the schools are struggling to sell more meals to kids eligible for free and reduced lunches. How can you sell more? By offering things they want, not need, like pizza, chicken nuggets, burgers, burritos and such.
As we watch the childhood obesity numbers rise, it baffles the mind that such a crazy, broken system survives... but it goes to show that it's not all the school districts' fault, either. They're stuck between a rock and hard place! So it did my heart some good to flip through those photos of made-from-scratch vegetarian curry and cucumber boats.