Thursday, April 8, 2010

Hot topic: School lunches

This from a reader:
Was wondering if we could revisit the topic of school lunches. I read with great interest the old post about SFUSD lunches. Was wondering if the budget deficit will affect the lunches offered. Would like to know what school kids are eating these days. Any other schools beside Miraloma that offers a salad bar? How are schools with edible garden programs incorporating that into meal times?

42 comments:

  1. school lunches are federally funded.

    ReplyDelete
  2. i grew up on salisbury steaks and green jello o mondays and corn dog fridays. i'm afraid those days are long gone.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Who do school lunches work? Do I send $1 or $2 to school each day w/my kid to buy lunch? I'm sure he'll lose it. Do I pay in advance? Per month, year? Can they bring a lunch some days and buy a lunch some days? Or is it all one way or the other?

    ReplyDelete
  4. School lunches are federally funded but the feds don't give enough money so the District does kick in to make sure all kids are fed and the lunches are reasonably healthy.

    Kids can buy lunch some days and bring some days. Every school handles payment differently, I think. At our school, before the system went online, parents paid in advance in the office. The principal wanted to make sure kids don't handle the money and no kids know who is paying/who is getting lunch free. A month or two ago we got a notice that we can start paying online which is what we now do. It's very easy, and schools will not let a child who has a delinquent account/forgets money/etc. go hungry. I'm sure the schools still have a way to pay in the office for families without internet access.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Yes, you can have your child bring a lunch some days and buy on others. You are supposed to be able to pre-pay by the week, but not all schools/teachers have that system down.

    Good news is they are rolling out POS systems where you can upload $$$ into an account, and the kid keys in a number. Several upper-grade schools now have it. This will have several advantages--kid won't lose the money, and the free lunch/paid lunch distinction will be blurred (can be a stigma). One slight problem with the new system is I have found my kid buying lunches for other kids--have had to have a chat about how that's a nice thought on occasion, but I can't afford (truly) to subsidize all her friends on a daily basis! She's older though.

    Meanwhile, I actually didn't find my kids had trouble with the money in elementary. They had a special pouch in their backpacks for the cash, and the teacher collected it first thing. I think they liked having the responsibility for money.

    There is a parent food group working with the district. They've done a LOT to improve the food and the system. Example, chicken "nuggets" are now fully breast meat, not unidentifiable parts, and baked not fried.

    That said, I don't love all the meals--they don't seem appetizing to me. But my kids like about half of them....and ate them at least as well as some of my best and most creative efforts from home (nothing like opening the lunch box at the end of the day and seeing it uneaten and soggy). If they eat, I'm willing.

    Final point--and I expect Caroline or Dana to weigh in at any minute--the fundamental issue is underpayment from the feds. We are a high-cost area and we get just over $2.00 to spend on each lunch. That works out to about $1.00 by the time overhead is considered. With the price of milk (required), try making that work out to a wonderful meal. It's shameful, really it is. We need more money from the feds. And no, they can't right now do scratch cooking in most sites because most of the kitchens are long gone. Long-term improvements will take capitalization.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Off topic, but how do school drop offs go? I heard at Grattan and Sunnyside the parents walk the kids into the play yard and then stay there w/them until the assembly is done and the kids line up and go into the school. How am I going to do that with an infant and a 2 year old in the car? (b/c I have to drive b/c I can't get a spot in the school 2 blocks away, but that's another story) Can't I just drive up and watch him walk into the play yard? The Sunnyside parent told me they park on the other side of Monterey and then walk 4 blocks to the school. This seems so crazy to me. Do all the elementary schools do it this way?

    ReplyDelete
  7. Not to take readers away from this site but there's an interest blog about a school teacher eating the cafeteria food and blogging about it. A real eye opener.

    http://fedupwithschoollunch.blogspot.com/

    ReplyDelete
  8. The hot lunches at my kid's parochial school is pretty depressing: corn dogs and cheese pizza.

    ReplyDelete
  9. Do all elem. schools serve breakfast?

    ReplyDelete
  10. At Grattan you can drop off from your car your kid between 7:30 and 7:50 from your car and have him/her personally assisted by Mr Phillip the computer guy (or when he is out, the principal). A very organized and safe procedure. If you want to go to the daily clap- in in the yerd to find out what is happening for the day or to connect with other parents, you may do so.

    ReplyDelete
  11. West Portal was the first Salad Bar school and I think they (and Miraloma) are discontinuing it because the students don't eat it. About 3/4 of it gets thrown out.


    Most schools are going to the computerized system so there is no more money changing hands.

    And Drop offs, each school has a different system. I know C. Sloat has parent volunteers that take the kids from the car to the playground so that everyone doesn't need to park and walk in. Its going to depend on your comfort level. Is your child responsible enough to walk from your car, play in the yard until the bell rings and then line up? Then they'll do fine with a curb side drop off. The real question is, will you be okay with it?

    ReplyDelete
  12. "Do I send $1 or $2 to school each day w/my kid to buy lunch?"

    Schools are moving to on-line payment. Works pretty well.

    "The hot lunches at my kid's parochial school is pretty depressing: corn dogs and cheese pizza."

    That sounds like the SFUSD lunches.

    Some of the parochials get their food via the public lunch system.

    Some of the parochials contract w/local caterers instead, but you're talking $5-7/lunch then. Or they just expect you to supply your kid with a lunch.

    The school lunches are miserable compared to what I got as a kid, though: not that they were that great, but at least they were real meals.

    What's lunch like at the independent privates?

    ReplyDelete
  13. Hells yes I'll be ok w/dropping my kid off at the curb. He doesn't need to be babied and have mommy stand there and hover over him in the school yard until the bell rings. Now, if we can just get assigned a school in Rd 2, I hope it has curb side drop off!

    ReplyDelete
  14. Most schools have some sort of curbside dropoff. The kids do fine. The school buses obviously also are doing curbside dropoff. It really is okay! Kids like their growing independence.

    I don't think SFUSD is serving corn dogs anymore--those went away in the last round of food improvements. It's still far from gourmet, but it is better. So I guess we're better than some of the parochials but I would assume worse than most of the privates--but then, their parents can afford to pay $5-7 per lunch (ouch! about $1,000/year/child).

    Yes, SFUSD schools serve breakfast every day. Many kids get the majority of their caloric intake at school--or else would be quite hungry. The program started after the U.S. saw how malnourished their military recruits were.

    For those of us not on free/reduced lunch, we can pay for the breakfast (pancakes, french toast, cereal, muffins). Can be a way to make the early morning thing work if you need to get to work--send your kid in to get breakfast at school. I know parents who have done it who needed to be at their desks by 8am.

    ReplyDelete
  15. Hi everybody -- there's now a blog up addressing SF School Food issues, and it'll be posting info about a lot of this.

    http://sfschoolfood.blogspot.com/

    The blog was started by SFUSD Student Nutrition Services, but is being taken over by parent volunteer members of the SFUSD Student Nutrition and Physical Activity Committee. It's really just getting up and running, but posts will be going up more frequently. I'll try to answer other questions in the next comment...

    ReplyDelete
  16. Disclosure that after many years as a parent volunteer working on school food issues, I have a part-time long-term temp job doing communications with SFUSD Student Nutrition Services (with outside funding, for the record). Here are some answers to questions posted here:

    SFUSD has a new prepayment system for school cafeteria meals currently rolling out. It's up and running at all HS and MS, and many elementaries, with more rolling out each week. To register and find out if your elementary school is online yet, go to www.mealpayplus.com -- to register, you need your child's H-zero number (from report cards, school records or your school office). (This number is commonly referred to as an H-Oh number, but to register it, remember that it's H-zero!)

    9:59 gave a lot of great information. A fact sheet about school lunches will be posted shortly on the blog (mentioned in previous comment). Lots more information is posted at www.sfusdfood.org, the volunteer-run website of the district's Student Nutrition and Physical Activity Committee. For anyone who wants to really learn the dynamics (and challenges) of school food in our country, I highly recommend the book "Free for All: Fixing School Food in America," by Janet Poppendieck. She calls for feeding all schoolchildren free, rather than using the current, incredibly cumbersome and resource-sucking three-tiered eligibility system.

    9:59 is also correct about the impossibility of building, or rebuilding, kitchens in every school. An actual possibility is the hope of passing a bond measure to build a fully functioning central kitchen for SFUSD, which current proposals would link to a culinary high school.

    Salad bars are in place at almost every high school and middle school, and some elementaries. They are really popular in the secondary schools, and it appears to vary in the elementaries. Here's what I've seen in some visits: At Miraloma, the salad bar goes untouched. (I think it may have been removed by now.) At West Portal, the kids don't seem to serve themselves the actual lettuce, but they take the other veggies -- carrots, celery, cherry tomatoes, jicama (the broccoli and cauliflower are less popular). At Bret Harte in the Bayview, the kids dish themselves lettuce and veggies, and eat it eagerly. Who knows why there are these differences school to school...

    Yes, there is also a school breakfast program. Info on that will also go up on the blog.

    We can't make our kids eat in the caf, but if yours are at all likely to be willing, give it a try! I've been eating the caf items when I can, and now I really think the disparagement is unwarranted. They could DEFINITELY benefit from more appealing presentation, I have to say.

    School menus, which are hard to find, are also being posted on the blog now.

    http://sfschoolfood.blogspot.com/

    ReplyDelete
  17. Caroline -- I think Mr. Food Revolution, Jamie whatever-his-name-is, on ABC should come to SF and do a show about how little money we get for our lunches and how everything comes pre-packaged from a central facility. In his first show, he went into a kitchen in a West Virginia elementary and crapped about how unhealthy the meal that the cooks were making was. All I could think as I watched it was how fabulous that the school had all this cooking equipment onsite as well as five or so staff cooks there! Of course, as you know, with all that staff and equipment, you can change the menu to make it healthier. I honestly wonder whether his doing a show about how underfunded SF school lunches are might make it politically possible for us to get some type of measure passed to improve it? Just a thought . . .

    ReplyDelete
  18. Caroline, thx for the info. I just went to the website to see if our newly assigned K school is on this, but it only tells you what districts participate, not which schools in the district.

    ReplyDelete
  19. I learned from Janet Poppendieck's book that school meals are desperately short of funding everywhere in the U.S. -- I would have assumed that the problem was worse here, because of our higher cost of living and California's ultra-low education funding (even though the feds provide the meal program funding). So the solution really needs to be national in scope.

    Still, in our food-obsessed city, I'm surprised that there isn't an angel stepping forward to augment the funding. The obvious impulse is to get our great local chefs to actually cook, but the web of regulations basically makes that impossible as an ongoing solution -- everything has to be so tightly controlled and monitored to follow the National School Lunch Program regulations. But if someone would just provide MONEY, we could still be feeding our children significantly better food.

    ReplyDelete
  20. 2:36, I think you have to actually register on MealpayPlus before the screen shows you the list of schools in SFUSD.

    ReplyDelete
  21. Here's the current list of elementary and K-8 schools that are online with MealpayPlus: Alice Fong Yu, Bryant, Buena Vista, Carmichael K-5, Clarendon, El Dorado, F.S. Key, Grattan, Hillcrest, Jefferson, John Yehall Chin, Jose Ortega, Lakeshore, Lafayette, Lawton Alternative, Longfellow, Miraloma, Monroe, Paul Revere, R. L. Stevenson, Rosa Parks, Sherman, Starr King, Tenderloin, West Portal, Willie Brown, Yick Wo, & Visitation Valley.

    ReplyDelete
  22. Thanks for the list. What does it mean if our school is not on there? Are only the progressive schools w/active parents on it already. I'm so concerned about our middle of the road school assignement. How did they decide which schools got on it first. I see really low performing schools and the trophies here.

    ReplyDelete
  23. All schools are scheduled to be up and running by the end of the school year. My understanding is that it's almost entirely based on technology concerns, some that are really arcane. For example, one school doesn't have a computerized lunchroom at all yet (no point of sale system either, which is required before MealpayPlus can go online) entirely because the configuration of the caf requires the computer to be on a moving cart in the center of the caf among a crowd of kids, which is dangerously unstable. So that has to be remedied first.

    ReplyDelete
  24. The school lunches are foul. You seriously would get better food on an airplane. Essentially, that is what SFUSD scool lunch food is. Here we are in California of all places and our children's lunches are prepared, packaged and trucked in from the mid-west. It's appalling. Until the federal gov't revises the way they fund the program, it is going to be hard to get much better.

    ReplyDelete
  25. Glen Park ES just rolled out the prepay/touchscreen system early this month.

    My kid is not a fan of the hot lunch because it's too hot. I do resort to it on days when I've been up all night with one of the little ones.

    I'm a big fan of Daiso (for good cheap containers), Lunch in a box (for ideas) and the laptop lunch system. I can knock out a healthy lunch in under 5 minutes now with some preplanning (especially if I chop up veggies on the weekends)!

    ReplyDelete
  26. For anyone interested in getting involved in school food reform efforts at SFUSD, I founded a grassroots organization called SF School Food Coalition last year as a way to convene parents and community members together around this very important issue.

    Check out our website at sfschoolfood.org, which has lots of information about our work over the past year.

    We meet on the 3rd Wednesday of every month from 7-9PM and also have a Yahoo Group listserv called SFUSDFoodFuture.

    ReplyDelete
  27. My kid won't even stand in line to get milk. I think the whole intimidates the poor kid. I prepaid for the milk and all. All that was needed was go to get it. I ended up donating the money to some kid that needed the milk or whatever they used the money towards.

    Now, I pack the sterile milk in the lunch box.

    ReplyDelete
  28. Whatever one's opinion of the admittedly packaged meal, the addition of the salad bars has been a great boon. I find it really heartening to visit cafeterias and see how much of the meal is produce, and that the breads, rolls and pizza crust are whole grain.

    Here's a blog post on the basics of SFUSD lunches.

    http://sfschoolfood.blogspot.com/2010/04/users-guide-to-sfusd-school-lunches.html

    ReplyDelete
  29. Sorry, that was Caroline posting under a Google account that I normally don't use here, obviously.

    ReplyDelete
  30. Any thoughts on "Kid Chow"? The independent school to which our daughter was accepted uses this service. Thanks

    ReplyDelete
  31. Independent schools vary. Some have in-school kitchen and cafeteria - often serving organic, locally sourced ingredients for hot meals (with salad and sandwich bars etc.). Those who don't have kitchen facilities, outsource with Kidchow.

    I've used Kidchow for years now for my kids at independent schools. Kidchow has a menu that you can order online in advice, with plenty of organic, fresh (hot and cold) options. It's not cheap ($6-$7/per lunch) - but I like it a couple of times a week to give my kids variety at lunch, and give me a break from making lunch for two very picky eaters.

    ReplyDelete
  32. If your child ever eats in the cafeteria, please register for SFUSD's prepayment program and put even just $10 in his/her account. In a pinch, middle and high-school kids can spend it on bottled water and the only sweet treat offered in our cafs, a low-fat cookie.

    Go to www.mealpayplus.com
    You will need your child's student number, which starts with H-zero (it's called an HO number, but that's a zero).
    All SFUSD middle and high schools are currently using MealpayPlus. Elementary schools are being added week by week. Once you register you can see which elementary schools are online. Here's the current list:
    Alice Fong Yu, Bryant, Buena Vista, Carmichael K-5, Clarendon, El Dorado, F.S. Key, Grattan, Hillcrest, Jefferson, John Yehall Chin, Jose Ortega, Lakeshore, Lafayette, Lawton Alternative, Longfellow, Miraloma, Monroe, Paul Revere, R. L. Stevenson, Rosa Parks, Sherman, Starr King, Tenderloin, West Portal, Willie Brown, Yick Wo, & Visitation Valley.

    And here are menus for the coming week:
    (All meals served with appropriate buns, condiments and a choice of milk. Menu subject to change.)
    SFUSD elementary school cafeteria menus
    April 12-April 16, 2010

    Monday, April 12
    Breakfast: Cornflakes, Apple Waffle crackers, fruit punch
    Lunch: Chicken dippers w/tomato parmesan sauce, fresh apple, garlic bread (Veg: Breaded veggie nuggets)

    Tuesday, April 13
    Breakfast: Buttermilk waffle, Honey Belly Bears, orange pineapple juice
    Lunch: Bean & cheese burrito, buttered corn, fresh orange wedges

    Wednesday, April 14
    Breakfast: Apple fruit muffin, 100% fruit punch
    Lunch: Hamburger w/oven potatoes, fresh banana (Veg: Mini-cheese ravioli w/ragu sauce)

    Thursday, April 15
    Breakfast: Turkey ham & cheese on English muffin, apple juice
    Lunch: Orange chicken w/rice & vegetables, applesauce, breadstick (Veg: Bean & cheese burrito)

    Friday, April 16
    Breakfast: Kix cereal (low sugar), Strawberry Waffle crackers, strawberry kiwi juice
    Lunch: Pizza dippers, garden vegetable medley, fresh pear

    SFUSD middle & high school cafeteria menus
    April 12-April 16, 2010

    Monday, April 12
    Breakfast: Buttermilk waffle, Honey Belly Bears, orange pineapple juice
    Lunch: Chicken dippers w/tomato parmesan sauce or w/w penne w/meat sauce, sald bar, garlic bread (Veg: Breaded veggie nuggets)

    Tuesday, April 13
    Breakfast: Pancake w/turkey sausage, 100% fruit punch, Cinnamon Elf Grahams
    Lunch: Bean & cheese burrito or sweet & sour brown rice bowl w/chicken & vegetables, salad bar, corn muffin

    Wednesday, April 14
    Breakfast: Bagel w/cream cheese, Honey Belly Bears, grape juice
    Lunch: Charbroiled hamburger or breaded veggie nuggets, salad bar, jungle crackers

    Thursday, April 15
    Breakfast: French toast sticks, orange juice
    Lunch: Orange chicken w/rice or mini-cheese rigatoni w/marinara, salad bar, sliced multigrain bread

    Friday, April 16
    Breakfast: Turkey ham & cheese on English muffin, apple juice
    Lunch: Pizza dippers or rotini bake w/meat sauce, salad bar, carrot muffin

    ReplyDelete
  33. What’s for lunch in your San Francisco public schools?
    A users' guide to SFUSD cafeterias

    o Lunch is served in the cafeteria at every San Francisco Unified School District school, from kindergarten to 12th grade, during the school lunch periods.

    o Lunch is free to students who qualify for free and reduced-price meals, based on the National School Lunch Program meal application. Prices for other students are $2.00 in elementary (K-5) schools, $2.50 in middle (6-8) schools and $3.00 in high schools. There is no singling out or identifying low-income students. The price for adults is $3.50.

    o Some examples of lunch menus:
    • Orange chicken with rice and vegetables, applesauce and breadstick
    • Bean and cheese burrito with buttered corn and orange wedges
    • Turkey ham and cheese on whole wheat bread, zucchini sticks and pineapple tidbits
    • Patty melt sandwich with oven potatoes and fresh apple

    o The meals meet National School Lunch Program nutritional requirements for calories, nutrients, less than 30% calories from fat, and more. Lunches include a fruit, a vegetable, a protein, a grain and milk.

    o Salad bars are offered as part of the meal in middle and high schools and some elementary schools; elementary schools without salad bars offer a cut up fresh vegetable —- such as celery, zucchini sticks, jicama, or baby carrots — several days a week.

    o Breads, rolls, pasta and pizza crusts are whole grain.

    o Dessert is fresh fruit four days a week; the fifth is unsweetened applesauce or pineapple bits packed in juice, not syrup.

    o No SFUSD menu items are deep-fried. Potatoes are served only four times a month — always baked, not fried.

    o Chicken nuggets — also not fried — are made from whole pieces of breast meat rather than the common chopped-and-formed dark meat.

    o SFUSD meals never contain pork or peanut products.

    o SFUSD meals contain no MSG, artificial colors, added animal fats or tropical oils.

    o A vegetarian entrée is available every day, but should be preordered a few days in advance through the cafeteria staff. About 4 days a month, a vegetarian entrée is offered to all students with no preordering required.

    o At high schools, one entrée is always offered that is 50% larger than the others, to make sure larger appetites are satisfied.

    o Except for preordering the vegetarian entrée, students do not need to sign up or pay for lunch in advance and may just come to the cafeteria. However, high school and middle school students should have their ID card with them or their PIN number (from the card) memorized.

    o The school district’s new cafeteria prepayment program, MealpayPlus, now allows families to prepay for meals to help speed up service and allow the cafeteria staff to focus on feeding the students rather than handling payments. Register and prepay with credit card, debit card or electronic check at www.mealpayplus.com (registration uses the student number, beginning with H-zero, which is on report cards and other school materials).

    o Breakfast is also offered in nearly every school. School breakfast and lunch menus are posted on this blog.

    o Students must fill out the National School Lunch Program meal application to qualify for free/reduced-price lunch. It’s essential that all families return the form so that low-income students aren’t singled out. The application is available at school offices. Meal applications are distributed and collected at the start of each school year, but may be submitted any time. If there has been a change in family income that may qualify the student, the family is especially urged to file a new application at any time of year. Families that listed temporary income on an application also need to file new applications after 90 days.

    ReplyDelete
  34. Caroline,

    How does one "preorder" the vegetarian option? My child has tried to get the veg. option to no avail, the lunch worker says he needs to have a letter...please advise. Thank you!

    ReplyDelete
  35. "What's lunch like at the independent privates?"

    Burke's has a good school lunch program. See www.kdbs.org/sites/default/files/Burkes_April_Menu.pdf for this month. See also www.kdbs.org/sites/default/files/Burkes_A_La_Carte_Menu.pdf. They serve kid food but try to make it better than the average industrial made food stuff (i.e. Niman Ranch hot dogs). Lots of vegetarian options. No transfats. Food prepared on site daily. Cost is $5.50+ per day.

    ReplyDelete
  36. 12:22, please let me know the school and I'll pass it on to the caf workers' supervisor. With management in Student Nutrition far, far thinner than in the past (down from a high of 19 managers to 2), sometimes there are training lapses.

    ReplyDelete
  37. Re: The Kidchow question, our school uses Kidchow. I wish there was a hot lunch made onsite. However, the kidshow food is good and healthy, and provides a good way for kids to try different foods without a big investment on my part in something that could go to waste. Also, my daughter orders her own food, which I think is a great way for her to take some responsibility. She did get kind of sick of the offerings, so now she's packing her lunches for herself - but all in all I think Kidchow is a good option to have.

    ReplyDelete
  38. Looking at the breakfast menus, I'm wondering what exactly is a 'Belly Bear'? Are they something like Teddy Grahams?

    ReplyDelete
  39. Yes, and they're in the meal to bring it up to the minimum calories required by the USDA, affordably, without adding fat. In a sane world, that's not necessarily what would be most of our first choice.

    ReplyDelete
  40. Hi Caroline,

    I was checking out the school lunch blog site you posted. What's the reason why the feds won't allow a grownup to help a child (e.g., a kinder) with his food selection or tray?

    Thanks for all the info you've provided. Really helpful.

    ReplyDelete
  41. Since somebody asked about independent privates, my kid loved the food at Cathedral at his shadow day and he's a very picky eater. He hated the Alice Waters "Edible Schoolyard" food they had at Steve & Kate's Camp last summer. The lunch program is included in Cathedral's tuition.

    ReplyDelete
  42. Thanks, 3:29 -- I'm glad the blog is helpful, and we'll try to keep adding useful information as frequently as possible.

    I learned the reason myself from the book I keep plugging, Janet Poppendieck's "Free for All: Fixing School Food in America." The morass of regulations governing (or burdening) school lunch programs has come from various bursts of concern, or crusades, over the years. In the '70s, there was a big flurry of concern about "plate waste" -- food thrown away by kids. So requiring them to pick up the items themselves was supposed to reduce that problem.

    ReplyDelete