What Happened to the Food at the High School Cafeteria?

Submitted Anonymously

A discussion with my son a few weeks back prompted a quick trip back in time to when I
was a student here in Granite City.  This discussion was about what a typical lunch day
experience in the Granite City High School cafeteria is all about.  Not only am I shocked by
what he had to say, but I am outright ticked off about what the lunch program has become.

This discussion was not a new one, but one that we've had on numerous occasions.  To
be honest, I always wrote this off to typical finicky, teenage complaining.  But after listening
to what he had to say, well, let's just say, it made me stop and think about who is in
charge, how they got there, and how they have managed to keep their job.

My first question is, when did a prepackaged, frozen burrito constitute a wholesome lunch
entree?   No matter what you serve it with, it's still a prepackaged, frozen, loaded with
preservatives, requires no cooking, unhealthy, cheap burrito.  And yet, this is a daily option
in the cafeteria.  A ham sandwich is also a daily option, according to my son.   Now keep in
mind, there is the published menu, which looks more than adequate, actually appetizing in
my opinion, a menu that contains chili, chicken noodle casserole, spaghetti and good old
tomato soup and grilled cheese sandwiches...BUT, to whom is this fare available?  
According to my son, this is available to the early lunch periods only and by the time the
last three periods hit the cafeteria it's burritos and ham sandwiches.

It's not only the food that is lacking, but the pricing structure is a bit hard to understand.  
Now, according to my son, this is how it goes down...you get in line, if you are lucky
enough to have an early lunch, you just might get to purchase the publicized menu or
perhaps a hamburger, but no French fries.  You are asked if you want the vegetable, by
"the vegetable" I mean, a scoop of green beans, peas, whatever it is that day.  And, there
is only once choice of vegetable, then you can opt for the "fruit cup", because the peach
cobbler and other decent dishes are gone.  Now, here is where it gets interesting...you can
purchase French Fries ONLY if you have purchased the plate lunch.  That's right, if you
don't pay for the chemical riddled burrito or gnarly ham sandwich on white bread, you can't
purchase any French Fries.  Fries may only be purchased in ADDITION to the plate lunch.
Hmmm...now it doesn't take a Wall Street Financial Analyst to figure this one out,
considering the bulk price of frozen French Fries.

My next question is, is our school district, namely our high school participating in the
NSLP?  Better known as the National School Lunch Program, a program whereby the
school district is reimbursed for the meals they serve to the students.  If they are not
participating, perhaps they should.  If they are participating what's up with the French Fry
scam, considering one of the requirements for NSLP participation is that the school
cafeteria be a non-profit making enterprise.  Please understand, the NSLP reimbursement
is NOT for reduced or free lunches only, but for ALL meals served.

Does anyone else see something wrong with this picture?  If they are being reimbursed for
meals served, why not make enough meals so everyone has a chance for the same
choices as the early lunch periods?  If they are charging extra for French Fries, which
could easily be part of a daily hamburger or sandwich special, which we all know most kids
would prefer, are they making money off of this?  It seems to me, yes.  They are serving a
spoonful of green beans or peas on a plate with a burger, which forces a French Fry
purchase, which means an extra seventy or eighty cents towards the bottom line.  BUT,
the cafeteria should NOT be a profit making venture, if participating in the reimbursement
program.  So which is it?

If we are participating in the NSLP, I understand that federal guidelines mandate milk in the
equation, but isn't it crazy that a seventeen or eighteen year old cannot opt for a fruit juice
instead of a carton of whole milk?  This is crazy.  But, it also makes for another purchase
of a can of soda....because the cafeteria doesn't offer fruit juice?  Please!

So what side of the line is the Granite City High School Cafeteria?  Non-profit, offering only
federally regulated meals, but simply not enough of them?  Or a profit making entity with
soda machines, packaged potato chips, and over priced French Fries?

My suggestion to all of this?  I say let's go back to the good old days...the days before
union representatives and local school district officials bargained away the cooking
responsibilities of the cafeteria cooks.  Yeah, that's right....actually make 'em cook!  What a
concept! Remember how it used to be when we were in school?  The cooks were there at
the crack of dawn, actually preparing from scratch, healthy meals that were available to
every student, from the first in line, to the last in line.  Yes, this would actually require
actual cooking, thus the title..."cook".

How about chopping up some lettuce and fresh vegetables for a new fangled gadget called
a "salad bar"?  Yes, everyday.  How about some soup on that salad bar, again every day!  
What's more nutritious than a fresh salad and a bowl of soup?  And how expensive could it
possibly be?   I'm certain less expensive than prepackaged burritos, unless, of course, they
are of such inferior quality that the district is getting them at a steal.

Finally, whoever is making all these decisions, planning the menus and the amounts to be
prepared...are they qualified?  What are their credentials?  Are they trained in nutrition or in
profiteering?  Are they stepping out of bounds with the NSLP?   Who are they accountable
to?

If every student at the high school refused to purchase lunch in the cafeteria for one week,
what would happen?  It's happened before in other venues.  The same venues where
students are now allowed to make their own salads at a salad bar, where they are allowed
to purchase a Subway sandwich, where they can have a carton of orange juice instead of
milk.  And yes, they are able to accommodate the students who need assistance with
lunches, so we can't use that for an excuse.

So, any suggestion?