Fourth Grader Goes Undercover in the Cafeteria, Plus More School Food News

It’s one of those weeks when the school food news is coming in so fast, I can’t keep up!   Here’s a quick round-up of articles of interest:

A Fourth-Grader Goes Undercover in the Cafeteria – Are His Findings Accurate?

Many of you have already seen on TLT’s Facebook page today’s New York Times blog account of a New York City fourth-grader named Zachary who secretly filmed the lunches at his public school cafeteria, often revealing a startling disparity between the school menu’s glowing description of the meal and the dismal food actually served.

Screen Shot 2013-05-10 at 9.54.53 AMWhile the article could lead readers to believe that Zachary’s investigations are current, his family released last year a documentary about his efforts — “Yuck: A Fourth Grader’s Short Documentary About School Lunch.”   That timing means Zachary was likely filming his lunches before the reforms of the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act were instituted, and that means he was allowed to refuse certain items on the lunch line, including the menu’s promised fruits and vegetables.  (A spokeswoman for New York City’s Education Department makes this same observation in the Times blog post.)  I haven’t seen Yuck, so I don’t know whether Zachary was using any discretion in refusing certain items — or if those grim, almost-bare styrofoam trays are an accurate portrayal of the lunches offered.

Apart from that possible quibble, the food Zachary filmed still looked pretty awful.  As I’ve written about before on The Lunch Tray (see “Many a Slip Twixt Kitchen and School“), districts face real challenges in ensuring that their school lunch rooms present meals in the manner in which they were intended to be served.  For example, when Los Angeles USD rolled out an ambitious new menu in 2011, the early, negative student response seemed, in my view, to have more to do with poor preparation than the changed offerings.  Similarly, here in Houston ISD, where one central kitchen serves almost 300 schools, I know our Food Services department struggles with ensuring that the workers in each cafeteria understand how to finish off and present the food in a palatable, properly heated state.

At any rate, it seems Zachary’s efforts have gotten the attention of the Education Department’s Office of School Food, which has reportedly asked him for feedback on the new menus in the district.

Open Campuses Hurt School Nutrition Programs

Here’s an article worth reading about how closed-campus policies do much to improve school meal participation — and overall student nutrition — at the high school level.

In-Class Breakfast Continues to Stir Controversy, Plus a Breakfast Development in Texas

Even though I recognize the problems posed by in-class breakfast (loss of instructional time, sanitation issues and, in some districts, the highly processed nature of some of the items served), I still support such programs as an important anti-hunger measure for economically disadvantaged students.  That’s why I was pleased to learn yesterday that the Texas state legislature passed a bill to expand the breakfast program in my state.

But in-class programs continue to stir up controversy among some parents and teachers.  In Los Angeles, there have been pro-and anti-breakfast protests and the school board will revisit the issue on May 14.

All-Vegetarian School Lunch

Finally, as I also shared on TLT’s Facebook page earlier in the week, a progressive public school in Queens has adopted a 100% vegetarian school meal menu.  You can read about that development here.

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  1. Donna says

    Thanks for keeping us up-to-date on food news. FYI – i read that Zachary says he took all foods offered. I’d like to see a follow up now that improvements should have been made. A sequel?!

  2. says

    Kid was lucky… he was caught, and ordered to destroy the photos he took. By failing to do so, he could have put himself at risk of arrest and prosecution for “butthurt in the second degree” or some other equally ridiculous charge.


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