Fueling our kids and the future: school lunch

Small Towns

I remember smelling pork or beef roasting, or chocolate cake baking in the halls of my high school. Nothing went to waste either. The leftover sauerkraut from “Build Your Own Hotdog” was used in the cake, and most kids thought it was coconut. Our parents didn’t worry about what they were feeding us at school. When they ate our school lunch, it was like any of our other home-cooked meals.

In the past three decades, much has changed in our food system and society. Schools aren’t purchasing as many fresh foods, yet they have more nutrition requirements to fill. Schools got away from purchasing from the local grocery store or local farms. The number of local farms to purchase edible food from has become scarce. Eating two meals a day at school is the current reality for many of today’s families.

Recently, my kids invited me to eat lunch at school, and I jumped at the chance. I’ve seen the unappetizing school lunches online. Our school lunch menus show what items are locally sourced, and during Farm to School Month in October, I saw names of farms that I knew. Granted, I get to be a farm to school geek for a living, but to me that also meant an average parent would know that locally grown, fresh food was prepared in their school’s kitchen.

Each month seasonal foods are taste-tested in the classroom. They’ve tasted rutabaga, apple, pepper, and tomato varieties. They’ve determined which they liked best (or hated most). Recipes and shopping tips also come home. Considering cuts to food science and ag classes in many schools, or not learning these basic skills at home, some parents simply do not know how to buy, store, or cook fresh produce. As a parent, I feel like Farm to School gives us a chance to change this.
When I ate school lunch, I saw that my daughter was not afraid of gnawing on kiwi. I learned that both kids loved sweet potato fries, and my son likes to put them on his burger. I saw a tray of nutritionally dense food, knowing they’d come back in from recess in the frame of mind to learn. And, as a parent, it made me feel good that the school is feeding the kids to perform well on a variety of levels.

As a kid growing up in rural Nebraska, I could not imagine a world that agriculture and food prep skills weren’t a part of. But, today I see how quickly we are losing these skills. Farm to School is a tool for us to use to provide self-sufficiency and a better health legacy to our future keepers of the food system. Though the school garden lies fallow as my son’s science class collected soil samples to analyze last week, I’m eager to see what lessons they learn there in the spring!

Feature photo: Sandra's son enjoys lunch with mom. He's showing how well sweet potato fries go on his hamburger patty. Photo by Sandra Renner