Wednesday, May 25, 2011

The Future of Cafeteria Food

If you've read my blog for a while, you know I have issues with the food served to kids in school cafeterias.   I firmly believe in laying the groundwork for good eating habits when kids are young helps to prevent weight problems in the future.  

School is, after all, where we send our children to learn so that they can be productive members of society, and it behooves me that they often fail on the nutritional end to teach them healthy eating habits by serving them crap food in the cafeteria.  

So I found this blog from Mark Bitman of the New York Times interesting.   In it he discusses the future of cafeteria food by actually eating the food.  It appears that the cafeteria food he reviews is not just for kids, but I found myself agreeing with many of his insights, like this one:

"I have some issues with Meatless Mondays, a campaign developed at Johns Hopkins, because too many dishes that might have once featured meat contain prodigious amounts of cheese. (Portobello mushrooms are also in abundance, and that’s a great thing.) This substitution of cheese for meat isn’t universal, but it occurs frequently enough so that the main message is lost. The way to follow a diet that’s more sustainable for both body and planet is through eating plants and unprocessed food rather than animal products and ultra-processed food; substituting a cheese-heavy sandwich on white bread may send a somewhat beneficial “eat-less-meat” message, but it doesn’t send the same one as a salad or a vegetable stir-fry. Nor does it do you or anyone else any good."

I'm also praying that this company that Bitman wrote about succeeds:
Bon Appétit Management Company, the brainchild of Fedele Bauccio, who founded the company in 1987 after a long career in food service, has gotten a fair share of well-deserved positive publicity. The chefs (and even the cooks, many of whom prepare the food they serve) have broad, independent powers, the food is locally sourced whenever possible and the company has committed — not just given lip service to — sustainable seafood, cage-free eggs, fair labor practices, antibiotic-free meat (when possible), a reduced carbon footprint in general, and a huge proportion of not only vegetarian but vegan options (their use of cheese has actually declined in recent years, a company-wide goal).

Furthermore, they do real, from-scratch cooking — no “bases” are used for stocks or sauces, soups, salad dressings and salsas are made from scratch, and even much of the lemon juice is fresh-squeezed. At one operation, the yogurt is made on premises. At Roger Williams, Rhode Island-grown potatoes are peeled and cut for frying, which puts the café ahead of many of the country’s top restaurants. (If you’re going to eat fries, this is the way to go.)

This is cafeteria food that you actually want to eat, food that deserves to be served with wine. At each of these operations, I ate from the same line as the students, and sampled a fantastic vegetarian muffaletta sandwich, vegetable-stuffed crepes, Indian “burritos” with spinach and tofu, tacos more reminiscent of Los Angeles than New York, stir-fries made to order and in-season, from-the-farm asparagus, turnips, lettuce, herbs and more. I can only imagine how good these cafeterias are come July.
Bitman also addresses the cost factor by writing this:

This is in general true of real cooking: you spend less on ingredients, because you’re not buying “value-added” junk — but you have to work a bit harder. To have this happen in the cafeteria, one of the most despised of all American institutions, is downright inspiring.
What he is saying is prophetic.  The argument that school districts cry that they can't "afford" to feed our kids better food is just nonsense because unprocessed foods cost less then processed foods do.    The only additional cost is labor.    So, the costs would no doubt equalize out.  

1 comment:

  1. It would be great to teach kids good nutrition but it seems even our governments don't come out in support of truly healthy choices. I suppose most of us will have to try to deliver the right messages, and meals, at home.