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?

st paul public schools Bite Of Minnesota: School Lunches Reformed

(credit: Crystal Grobe)

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.

school lunches Bite Of Minnesota: School Lunches Reformed

(credit: Crystal Grobe)

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.

smart cookies Bite Of Minnesota: School Lunches Reformed

(credit: Crystal Grobe)

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!

school lunch cookies Bite Of Minnesota: School Lunches Reformed

(credit: Crystal Grobe)

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?

Comments (5)
  1. Bill says:

    “The students love their cheesebread!”

    If they’re still serving this crap, even occasionally, particularly as an entree, then they’re still serving far too many starches, and therefore still deserve an ‘F’.

  2. Marge says:

    Strides have been made but the program still leaves a lot to be desired. SPPS now needs to turn their attention to the individual school lunchroom. Kids are not given enough time to eat, some are made to eat in their winter gear so they can be ready for recess. First graders, who are at the age where they are losing their front teeth are served whole apples as their fruit-impossible for them to even bite. It’s one thing to put the food out-it’s another for it to be consumed. There’s a reason they give the waste to a pig farmer.

  3. Crystal Grobe says:

    Oh, Bill – I love cheesebread too! It isn’t served as an entree for lunch, but it looks to be on the breakfast menu in mini size along with fruit. Back when we had breakfast at school, it was McDonald’s breakfast sandwiches – I’d toss the egg and meat and just eat bread and cheese.

  4. Crystal Grobe says:

    Marge – great point! I’ve heard about time being a concern and that’s really too bad. We don’t need more generations of Americans wolfing down their food. I’m eager to drop into my nephew’s lunchroom and see everything in action – it’s one thing to go behind-the-scenes and another to witness it first hand (including the waste).

  5. Sadie says:

    my daughters school finally got smart about lunch/recess. This year they changed the schedule so that they would go out for recess before lunch. That way they were able to burn off some energy before being told to sit quietly and eat – and nobody had to rush to eat their lunch because their friends were already out the door to recess!

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