The Washington Post

Montgomery school lunches under scrutiny

On this Thanksgiving, be grateful you are not dining in a school cafeteria.

Third-grader Jalen Blackwell eats lunch in the cafeteria at Flower Valley Elementary School. (Katherine Frey/THE WASHINGTON POST)

Some of my lunchmates, an international delegation of governing leaders for the international baccalaureate program, preferred to go hungry or pick at iceberg lettuce salads. But I stocked my tray with a cheese mini pizza and tater tots. (Nutritional info available here).

The verdict: Very, um, chewy.

The debate over what constitutes a healthy and appropriate lunch for school children is forever old and new again. Congress is debating whether pizza should be counted as a vegetable in the Agriculture Department’s school lunch standards (It has tomato paste after all!). And the Montgomery County Council is holding public meetings on the quality of food service in the schools.

Many critics say that kids need to learn to explore the leafy end of the food chain, and salad bars should start springing up amid the starch meccas of cafeteria food lines.

School nutritionists say they are in a tough spot: They must make food that is healthy but also palatable to a junk-food loving generation. They have to sling enough burgers — soy or otherwise — to balance their budgets.

The result is political compromise, or in my case, a junk-food mirage. The crust was whole-wheat I’m told, and the cheese low-fat. It looked like pizza. But after trying it, I wasn’t sure. In the push and pull of high school lunches, is it taste that loses out the most?

What do you think about the food at your school?

Michael Alison Chandler writes about schools and families in the Washington region.

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