Last week I chose a random day to visit my children’s cafeteria and here’s what was being served:
To the right is pepperoni pizza, to the left is Frito Pie, and both were served with mashed potatoes, green beans and an apple. (The child on the right had declined the potatoes and had purchased an ice cream a la carte). For the uninitiated (and that would include me, before moving to Texas), classic Frito Pie consists of Frito corn chips topped with chili, cheese and often other toppings, served straight-up or sometimes baked together.
I believe — based on prior conversations with Houston ISD food services — that (1) the Frito Pie is made from
baked, whole grain chips; (2) the chili contains beef and beans (the beans are a new addition); (3) there is some whole grain in the pizza crust (but I don’t know the percentage), and (4) both dishes use low-fat (or maybe reduced-fat) cheese. [Ed Update: I later learned the chips are fried.]
I’m glad that those nutritional improvements have been made, and I have no problem with kid-friendly options like pizza and Frito Pie appearing on the menu some of the time. But as I’ve talked about quite a bit on The Lunch Tray (starting with my very first post), it does concern me that our menu is currently still weighted almost entirely in favor of “kid food” (or what one source in Janet Poppendieck’s Free For All calls “carnival fare”).
Based on last week’s menu, in the course of one week a child could have eaten for lunch: beef taco nachos, a chicken fried steak with cream gravy, a breaded chicken sandwich, and Frito Pie (or pepperoni pizza) served with mashed potatoes. Whether we like it or not, a child is likely to believe that this constitutes an sound daily diet – or why else would his or her school serve it? And children have no idea that these foods might be somehow “better” than the same offerings at a restaurant.
What takes place in the cafeteria constitutes a lesson — just as much as what takes place in the classroom. So, what are we teaching our children?