School Lunch Reprise: Observations and Ideas

Gentle Readers, what do you remember about school lunch? My brother and I often reminisce less than fondly about the smell of bloaty peas that seemed to permeate our cafeteria, with a hint of green cleaner. The world has changed, and while schools often promote the concept of healthy eating, it’s a high nugget environment.

Easy to use lunchbox food.

Easy to use lunchbox food.

Last week I had the opportunity to do some on the ground research courtesy of The Practical Cooks Junior. I went to eat lunch with both of them, two separate yet similar experiences. First observation, every kid who got school lunch chose nuggets and fries, only the fruit varied. Second observation, almost every kid ate the fruit, sometimes first.

Sliced oranges (shown with dried cranberries and bananas) make a great side dish for garlicky pasta.

Sliced oranges (shown with dried cranberries and bananas) make a great side dish for garlicky pasta.

The Jrs pack their lunch, their choice, and as vegetarians, a smart one. The “crushers” (essentially chunky fruit juice) and “squishers” (yogurt in a tube) were big hits. Reminded me of the days of Froot Rollups. Food marketing matters. Kids still sit in judgment of one another’s lunch, and in turn, the judged rarely cares if they like what they’re eating.

Don't overlook the afterschool snack!

Don’t overlook the afterschool snack!

I saw cookies eaten first, but a lot of whole fruit consumed as well. And I saw fries greatly ignored, and who could blame them. A floppy fry is abysmal.Conclusion, bad food is bad, and kids are not fooled by that.

World's Largest Fortune Cookie: Tao in Las Vegas

World’s Largest Fortune Cookie: Tao in Las Vegas

Here are some lunchbox faves from TPCs Jr:

  • bagel with cream cheese
  • nuts — walnuts and pecans lead the pack
  • clementines — these are like kid crack, a favorite classroom snack as well, they’ll go through 2 or 3 of them
  • phoney baloney — the traditional sandwich with cheese is still a favorite
  • fruit cup with 100% juice — these always were and still are fun, and less cloying with the rise of fruit juice as the medium
  • fortune cookies — I have no issue with a lunch box treat, and this is a great way to surprise them. The fortunes always get read, and perhaps they can learn a little Chinese in the process.

The Jrs are still young enough that I am allowed to sit with them at the table and it be a cool thing, which is probably why peer pressure around food is not in full swing either. So while there’s still time, keep pushing those whole foods. They will get eaten!

Bagels are Sandwiches Too!

Bagels are Sandwiches Too!

What’s your school cafeteria memory? Post a comment in the box below! It’s wide open and waiting for you.

Send your hot tea, strokes of brilliance, and kitchen confessions to practical cook at gmail dot com. Connect on Facebook: The Practical Cook Blog. (Thanks in advance for spreading The Practical Cook Blog word. Press “like” on Facebook today! Also, follow the food pictures on Instagram @amylewi.)

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Coming up Friday: Smoked Salmon Salad, A Recipe of Sorts.

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Filed under On the Table, Snacks

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