Reporter takes a turn in the lunch lineLunch with students confirmed some of my suspicions and rejected other assumptions.
By: Jana Hollingsworth, Duluth News Tribune
I began my lunch at Superior Middle School loading my plastic tray with a cheesy slice of lasagna and garlic bread.
I was offered warm carrot coins. The 9-year-old me instantly rejected them, until I remembered I was an adult.
“Yes, I’ll take carrots,” I told the lovely lunch lady.
Superior food service director Jeanne Hopkins led me through the stations, where I also took a fruit cup.
“Don’t forget your milk,” she said.
I sat by myself in the cafeteria, alone in the calm before a storm of sixth-graders arrived.
I had picked one of the homemade options of the day. The other was sloppy Joes. I could have chosen a chef salad, a ham-and-cheese sub sandwich, pizza or chicken nuggets. (USDA guidelines say the chicken breading counts as a grain serving.)
The lasagna was good. Ground beef with diced tomatoes mixed in and a gorgeous layer of cheese on top. The tiny slice of bread was nice. Perfect for a child. Mixed fruit in syrup prompted mixed feelings about healthiness. I was just forcing down warm carrots when students filled the room. I felt like an instant nerd for sitting alone, until four boys sat at my table. (It was “their” table.) We made small talk. They went to fill their trays, each returning with a homemade option: three lasagnas and one sloppy Joe.
I watched them eat. The entrees went fast. There were some attempts at eating the veggies and fruit. One student drank two chocolate skim milks. No one put anything on the “sharing” cart: a place to put unopened milk or untouched food for others to take, to eliminate waste.
Robby McGrady said he always takes the lasagna and eats hot lunch every day. The four boys rejected my theory that if given the chance, kids will eat pizza every day.
My lunch at Lakewood Elementary in Duluth fell on Twins Day, so cute little beef and pork slider-style hotdogs were served, and are different from the turkey dogs students usually get. Elementary schools don’t offer choices as middle schools do, so apart from peanut butter and ham and cheese sandwiches ready for those who don’t want hotdogs, there was one offering.
The dogs came with baked beans, raw cucumber slices, carrots and broccoli, a bag of baked chips, a choice of a large strawberry or sliced kiwi and a pudding parfait. And milk. Whew. It’s balanced, but those federal school lunch standards seem to require a massive amount of food. Duluth dietitians tell me those growing bodies need all that fuel.
I squeezed into the child-sized table with a mess of fifth-graders, all eager to talk about hot lunch. They don’t like wheat spaghetti. They like hot dogs and popcorn chicken. They really, really like fresh fruit, and want more of it every day, and different kinds, like plums and pomegranates. Several said they drink the skim chocolate milk at school because they get white milk at home. We ran out of time, because lunch is only 20 minutes.
I ate my hot dogs. Hot dogs taste good, sure, but they are full of fat. I picked at the beans, didn’t take the dessert, and ate my giant strawberry, taking my bag of chips back to work. I was full, but I’m done growing. While not the healthiest meal, it was Twins Day. Food service director Pam Bowe said the kids get to have a little fun now and then.
Jana Hollingsworth covers education issues. She can be reached at (218) 279-5501 or by e-mail at jhollingsworth @duluthnews.com. Her food blog, the Current, is at duluthnewstribune.com.