Blogging anonymously as “Mrs. Q,” a teacher and mom of a toddler from Illinois, Sarah Wu pledged to eat school lunch every school day in 2010, just like her students. Using her cell phone camera to covertly snap pictures of the meals, she blogged and tweeted about the good, the bad, and the downright inedible, in the process raising awareness about the state of school lunches across the nation. Yesterday morning, she revealed her true identity to the world on “Good Morning America” as her book, Fed Up With Lunch: How One Anonymous Teacher Revealed the Truth About School Lunches, hit store shelves.
Wu shared the story behind just how she got started on this project and her Fed Up with Lunch blog yesterday, in the first of three guest posts here on Mom Congress. Today, she shares some of her all-time best and worst school lunches. Check back in tomorrow for her final guest post, with advice for parents interested in improving school food for their own kids.
After eating 162 school lunches in 2010, I'd like to share some of my favorite meals (really, there were some!) as well as some of those that were—to put it politely—less than appealing.
The bagel dog was the school lunch that ultimately launched Fed Up with Lunch a few months later, as it made me think twice about the food served in my school’s cafeteria. The bagel dog was, well, weird—encased in dough that was slightly soggy on the inside, covering a not-so-tasty hot dog. It was nothing like the corn dogs I remembered my grandparents buying for me when we went to the pool in the summer during my childhood. I think there's a time and place for food on a stick—and I don't think it should be at school. And in this particularly meal, the tater tots fulfilled the veggie requirement.
When I started the project, the first meal I ate was pasta with meat sauce, and it turned out to be one of my favorite meals over the course of the year. Pasta is a comfort food and can be nutritious and satisfying. However, this pasta has about 1,000 mg of sodium in it; it took quite a bit of Internet detective work for me to uncover that information. I believe that parents should have access to the nutritional facts for every item on the lunch tray. Ingredients matter. The pasta was served with broccoli (though green beans are shown here), which I think is a natural pairing. I am a lifelong broccoli lover and so I always ate the broccoli, but the way it was prepared (cooked offsite and reheated in a large oven) made it tough for kids who may have had little exposure to broccoli to learn to enjoy it.
The PB&J served at my school was unlike anything I had ever seen before. It looked like a ice cream sandwich with foil wrapping and a graham cracker "crust." But inside was an inch of peanut butter and a thin line of jelly. I could barely choke it down. The worst was that the graham cracker didn't survive the thawing process and was crumbly. I couldn't handle the texture at all. Notice in the picture that the fruit juice qualifies for the fruit component of the meal.
My absolute favorite meal was something called "Tex-Mex." The Tex-Mex meal was a seasoned ground turkey served over rice in a bowl with a side of tortilla chips and a side of refried black beans. To me, that school lunch was real food—something that could be made at home and not in a factory. Interestingly, readers from my blog often saw the refried beans on the side and mistook them for a little brownie. Unfortunately, many kids would see the beans and toss them.
Whenever I bought the rib-b-que and brought it to my room, the aroma was terrific. To eat school lunch I made sure that I was hungry at lunchtime, but the scent of the sauce would make me salivate. Oddly the taste didn't quite live up to the smell. School lunch at my school often included some manipulation of beef patty. Either it was a rib-b-que, Salisbury steak, a cheeseburger or just a plain old hamburger. It seemed like there was a lot of beef and chicken in school lunches—not a lot of variety in terms of meat. Knowing that raising cattle is time and labor-intensive as well as not very environmentally friendly, I wondered if school lunches could consider other options. What about offering more turkey or even one of my favorite meats to prepare at home: bison? Hmmm… food for thought.
Check out Fed Up With Lunch: How One Anonymous Teacher Revealed the Truth About School Lunches and check back here tomorrow for practical advice from Mrs. Q on improving lunches in your child’s school.