Portland redeems school lunches, breakfasts
I've been downright cynical about the fate of school lunches. The breakfasts have often been the worst: plastic-wrapped greasy sugar-or-salt balls, was my verdict. While there may have technically been "nutrition," protein and carbohydrates and some pass at vitamin enrichment, I suspected breakfast from McDonald's would have been healthier.
Today, I dropped my children off late at school and there was a big basket of leftover breakfast in the office. Monroe got one, too, and as we headed home I checked it out. The Zac O Mega-bar had me at "northwest fruit filling" and the insurmountably reliable ingredients list which was filled with stuff that's in my kitchen, not the contents of a chem lab. Yes, there's still sugar (zoinks!) but I was pleased with the whole wheat flour and oats, the molasses and honey. Fairlight Bakery in Vancouver makes the treats, and uses Shepherd's Grain flour from northern Washington, a sustainable farming cooperative.
It smelled good -- smelled real! -- and tasted great. Today's lunch is macaroni and cheese; I've got a call in to ask further, but a lot of effort has gone into making more food from scratch, so I'm hopeful.
The school district eliminated ranch dressing -- saving $60,000 -- so it could serve "real meat" (actual pieces of meat instead of the scraps left behind from other commercial uses). Harvest ingredients, fresh and frozen produce from local farms, continue to be featured a few times a month. Next week, a new menu item will be featured: Indian curry with chickpeas or chicken. I'm tempted to hang out at a cafeteria on Thursday and try it for myself.
Of course, there's much farther to go. The menu has gotten rid of most desserts, but the sugar content of my breakfast bar was still pretty high (16g of sugar is 4g more than the AHA's recommended maximum added sugar intake for elementary-aged children -- of course, a few of those grams are from the northwest berries). One of the daily options for kids -- and the only choice for children who don't have lunch money and haven't qualified for free lunches -- is a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. I might be fine with that, but it's the Smuckers Uncrustables, whose ingredient list is a bit terrifying. Let's just say, these ingredients are not found in crocks on my kitchen counter. The local Yami yogurt available on the lunch line is also fairly high in sugar -- about 8 grams of added sugar per little serving, or more than half the days' recommendation.
I'm thankful that our school nutrition services team decided that our kids are worth the extra time, money and effort to figure this out. I'm thrilled we're so lucky, and hoping this will go farther. I'd like to see, for instance, more money from the federal government for school lunches, and more support for local farms. I'd also like to see the district do away with the styrofoam trays at all the schools. (If you're at Abernethy, Ainsworth, Buckman, Chapman, Glencoe, Lewis and Skyline elementary schools, and da Vinci and West Sylvan middle schools, you've already got them.) Instead of just drawing the line at "real" meat, I'd like to see meat raised in a truly sustainable way, by local farmers.
But a little thing can thrill me, and this morning, I was thrilled by an orange-wrapped strawberry breakfast bar. Thanks PPS: keep aiming higher for our kids.