The Dallas ISD announced last week an overhaul of its school lunch program, which will eliminate foods like nachos, potato chips and desserts from federally subsidized school meals. Hamburgers and oven fries will be offered only once every two weeks and breaded and pre-fried foods will be on the menu more sparingly. New items are being offered like black bean burgers, hummus plates and Asian chicken bowls. Romaine lettuce and spinach will take the place of iceberg lettuce in salads, and brown rice will replace white rice.
Many of Dallas’s forthcoming changes are just the sort of things that the HISD Parent Advisory Committee (on which I serve) is trying to get instituted here in Houston: more legume-based meals, dark leafy greens and more whole grains like brown rice. (And in some ways Houston has gotten a big jump start on Dallas in that our district has already completely eliminated fried foods and uses “white” whole wheat flour in many baked goods. More on HISD menu improvements here.)
But while I will never criticize any school district for moving in a more healthful direction, I can tell you that both Houston and Dallas (and most other large urban school districts) still have a long way to go. I couldn’t find any specifics from the Dallas ISD Food Services website, but even with the proposed changes it sounds like Dallas children, even elementary school children, can still buy the less healthful items (the chips and desserts) on the a la carte line, and chocolate milk will still be served (although not everyone thinks that’s a bad thing.) It also sounds like at the high school level, nothing at all is changing (even though last year’s DISD high school menu, with entrees like “Buffalo Bites and Texas Toast” and “Shrimp Poppers and Hush Puppies,” might give you serious pause.)
From the Dallas Morning News article it also sounds like Dallas may be engaging in the sort of “junk-food-doctoring” that Houston engages in – e.g., frequently serving items like pizza and but with more whole grain in the crust. As I noted in my very first post on this blog, that’s all well and good, but it overlooks the fact that by constantly serving things like improved pizza and baked vs. fried chicken nuggets, we’re still teaching kids (to their detriment in later life) that it’s OK to eat pizza and chicken nuggets all the time. It’s what Dr. Susan Rubin, one of the “Two Angry Moms,” calls “rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic.”
So, kudos to Dallas, kudos to Houston, for any steps toward better school food. But let’s not rest on our laurels. There’s a lot more work to be done.