hot lunch

My kids love school lunch. When did that happen, I ask you?

I remember school lunch from my youth. It was awful. Tater tot casserole with mushy beans, anyone?At least one a week we had hexagonal pizza and corn and it made my stomach hurt. Everyone complained about school lunch. And the lunch ladies were so mean. I have a strong memory from 4th grade of an African-American kid named Stephen who started whistling in the cafeteria and the meanest lunch lady of all started screaming at him while 100 kids stared in silence and horror-struck awe as she verbally abused him before sending him to the principal.

Fast forward to now, when my kids are in elementary school. I look at the brightly colored menu that comes home every month and cringe at what's being offered, while also acknowledging that it's better than what was served at my school. Is ketchup still a vegetable, according to the U.S. Congress? I'm not even sure, but Madison schools are at least a step above that policy. Still, the nutritional content and source of all the meat they serve is questionable according to my standards.

You know what, though? My standards don't matter a whole lot. Because I gave up about halfway through Daniel's kindergarten year, or maybe it was early in first grade, when he was suddenly willing to try all kinds of new foods thanks to the wonderfully diverse school lunch menu and I figured what the hell, more than half the kids who attend public school in this city eat this food every single day because they have no choice (free/reduced lunch) and they are better off for it.

You choose your battles, you know? It's hard enough getting my kids to try new things. It would be so easy to be a total control freak about what they eat, and that is not a path I want to go down. Plus there's the whole thing where I don't want to be such an elitist, such a food snob, that what is apparently good enough for more than 10,000 kids isn't good enough for mine.

So it's a combination of white liberal guilt and the desire not to be a control freak that steered me toward the decision to let my kids have school lunch whenever they want it. Plus, it's so much more convenient than adding the chore of packing lunches to the craziness of our morning routine. (Really, I'm just lazy.)

What does it say, though, when they like what they had at school so much that they request it at home? Today's menu featured "build your own pepperoni pizza," which means they give you a bun (whole-grain!) with tomato sauce, pepperoni and cheese, but don't bother to heat it up or anything - AND MY KIDS LOVE IT. Anya just asked me if we could have it for supper sometime please please please and then spent ten minutes explaining to me just exactly how to make it in case I fall short of the school district's standards in my replication at home.

You can't win everything, huh?


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