Last week I had the chance to tour the St. Paul Public Schools District Facility and meet with some members of the Nutrition Services Department to get a behind-the-scenes look at the making of school lunches.
I wasn’t sure what to expect. Sure, I ate (and LOVED) school lunches as a kid, but I do not have kids and I’ve only heard bad things about the school lunch programs of today. Are students surviving merely on French fries and strawberry milk as Jamie Oliver witnessed in his Food Revolution efforts? Was I going to cringe at the wastefulness of using Styrofoam and plastic like the readers of Simple, Good, and Tasty did? Should I become a faithful follower of Chef Ann Cooper, the Renegade Lunch Lady?
Turns out, I was actually quite impressed at the efforts of St. Paul Public Schools to change the way school lunches are produced. The Nutrition Center produces all of the breads, pizza crusts, sauces, dressings and entrees for the 2.9 million breakfasts and 5.1 million lunches served each year in the school system and purchased 165,000 pounds of local produce last fall. Food waste is collected and donated to local pig farmers.
The most amazing news of all? Not a single French fry is served! Instead, sweet potato fries, roasted and mashed potatoes are occasionally served in an effort to reduce the intake of starches and stay ahead of changing government guidelines. Salad greens, vegetables and fruit are served with every lunch.
We passed a 330-gallon steam kettle used to cook and chill pastas and vegetables before distribution and walked by giant bread ovens rotating loaves of whole-wheat bread. The students love their cheesebread! So much so that when the district replaced white flour with white whole-wheat, the kids just shrugged their shoulders and dug in.
Even the treats got a little revamping. We were served Smart Cookies, which are a healthy take on chocolate chip cookies using white whole wheat flour, oats, flaxseed and shredded carrots. The verdict? Yummy!
While all schools aren’t on the same page as St. Paul Public Schools, it seems that most are making an effort towards reform. What changes are you seeing with the school lunch program in your area?