Friday, September 12, 2003
Sampling lunch cuisine, reactions
On two occasions I sampled the new lunch menu: the first during a special lunch arranged for teachers before school started, the second after roll-out during the second week of school. Both days I interviewed the "experts"for their perspective on the improvements.
Teachers lunch a success
For the special teachers' lunch, the entree was a broccoli pasta chicken that could have been offered in a restaurant. Served with bread, it proved very filling. Though I didn't try them, the Sal's pizza and subs also looked fresh and substantial.
I sat with librarian Sandy Kelly, second-grade teacher Donna Clapp, and new technology specialist Cyn McCann, who were all enthusiastic about the new menu. Kelly noted a chicken caesar salad served the day before was "excellent" and the sandwiches were "delicious." Clapp gave the lunches a "thumbs up" and said it will be "nice to have a more relaxed lunch at school" rather than run out to Daisy's, or skip lunch altogether. She predicted teachers who formerly passed on school lunches as "not satisfying" would be prime purchasers of the new lunches. McCann, who is currently in the process of writing a cookbook, came to Carlisle this year. She pronounced the lunches "much better" than what she was used to in other school districts.
Lunch program goes live
At the second sampling, on a regular school day, the entree was more what I expected of a school lunch: chicken nuggets with french fries and fresh fruit or fruit salad. The pizza and subs were also offered, both with french fries and fruit. When asked about the fat content, Food Service Director Joyce Lagadinos replied, "What we serve is just like any other school."
Looking around the lunchroom I estimated fewer than 40% of students had purchased the lunch, but that may have reflected a less-popular entree
What the girls say
To get the kid perspective, I interviewed two tables of lunchroom-experienced eighth graders, one girls and one boys. At the girl's table, three out of nine had purchased the lunch. Elise Lamoreaux, a chicken nugget eater, pronounced the new lunches "a lot better" and noted her particular fondness for the chicken caesar salad (not available that day), an opinion that elicited nods of agreement. Emily Holzman said the new lunches were "a major improvement this year," and Lauren Middleton, who didn't buy that day, but had on others, noted "There's more variety, and it all looks more appealing. The meals also seem better quality and healthier." Those who hadn't bought the new lunches mentioned habit, a desire to eat home food, and cost. Sarah Hoffman was concerned there was confusion about what was included in the $2 price and what was not.
What the boys say
A group of eighth grade boys at a picnic table outside were passionate on the subject of lunch, and especially quantity of lunch. Only three at a table of ten had purchased. Michael Bagshaw thought "the pizza is really good, but it shrank." He had noticed "a general improvement in quality," but said "the hot dogs bounce, just like they always have." He added, "the french fries are dry," a statement that started an argument over whether they were too wet or too dry (no conclusion was reached). David Duncan was annoyed by the marketing of the program, which used words like "gourmet" and "home cooked" when, according to him, "it's pretty much the same as last year, except the pizza." Several mentioned that lunch cost too much, but when pressed, it seemed the issue was not the cost of a single lunch, but the need to purchase two lunches or a lunch and snack food to be satisfied. Duncan brandished a rather stuffed lunch box and laughed at the idea a single slice of pizza was adequate. Sean Dwyer had a well-received suggestion to provide two pizzas for a slightly higher price, or, better yet, "an all you can eat buffet."
Change takes time
In conclusion, and taking into account the average middle schooler's need to complain about everything (with which I am well aquainted), it appears the changes to the lunch menu have been very much noticed and happily received. It may take time before students with many years habit of packing lunch switch over. Some picky eaters and kids on special diets will continue to rely on mom's home cooking, and some students feel it's virtuous to avoid paying money for lunch.
If there's a suggestion we would make, it seems a substantial number of middle school boys (and maybe some girls) would welcome a more robust offering if it could be done cost-effectively.
© 2003 The Carlisle Mosquito