Is School Lunch Changing For the Better?
By: Christina Griffin
School lunch has always been a force in my life. In elementary school, I had the luxury of not having to make my lunches, so eating them was mostly voluntary. I would bring home the lunch menu and circle the items I wanted, mostly pizza and french toast sticks. But then I was cut off and had to fend for myself. Today, I buy school lunch twice a week, and although it's not terrible, it has always been a motivator to pack my own lunch. Lately, though, I think something has changed. There’s been a bit of seasoning, warm food, and just better quality overall. There’s a new menu item, and even the old classics have been amplified. The cheese is melting on the pasta, chicken is being added to the pasta, the noodles are cooked more (maybe I just don’t like the pasta that much), there’s better bread on the chicken, and fluffier pizza dough—what a dream!
Or do I need to wake up? After all, I’m not the reigning authority on school lunches; I’m just a mere sophomore who has time to write articles for fun. The people need a voice on this topic. So I interviewed six willing participants, frequent fliers and dabblers, and I learned some things. One, the school pasta is more favored than I originally believed; three people said it was one of their favorite meals, up there with the dazzling breaded chicken. However, this isn’t an article about the school pasta; I can’t write 400 words about it yet. The burritos were criticized a bit, probably just for the unmelted cheese and the need for whole wheat tortillas. The new tater tots, or “dirty fries”, were a fan favorite. Of course, there’s always the greats: nachos, breaded chicken, and pizza. Overall, there were varying opinions; most agreed that it was better, a few worse. Those who liked it said the food was warmer, had more seasoning, and had better ingredients. Some people just had different preferences, which factored into their opinions, like not being a big fan of meat.
Asking around was fine and all, but I had to get to the bottom of this. So I talked to Tim Prosinski, the food service director. Basically, he’s in charge of all the cafeterias in the West Hartford Public Schools and has worked in the district for 6 years. I asked him if the nutrition standards have changed, and they haven’t. Did he receive any feedback? He didn’t. So there’s no official reason for the improvement. The meals have always had to follow the standards determined by the USDA and the state of Connecticut: all grains must be at least 51 percent whole grain; there has to be protein in each meal; fruits and vegetables have to be offered along with milk.
Prosinski made sure to emphasize that any improvement in quality would be due to the cafeteria manager at Conard, Laurie Ferreira, and all the lovely cafeteria workers. However, he did suggest ideas, including the Big E’s cornbread, pulled pork, and mashed potatoes with a cherry on top to look like a sundae. Nevertheless, Ferreira and others do most of the work, planning menus and making the food.
So maybe the school lunch is getting better; maybe it was just a really productive October. The only way you can really make up your mind is by trying it for yourself and saying thanks to the workers on your way out. I just really hope I didn’t jinx it.
Thank you to all the student interviewees: Gianna Wallace, Lucas Lensink, Jalyn Sanchez, Greta Fedolfi, Adam Mendoza, and Diya Kalaria. As well as Laurie Ferreira and Tim Prosinski for all their help.