BLOG — Kids navigate gustatory rush hour
- Published: January 28, 2011
This week in the McKinney/YSHS cafeteria, I learned a funny thing. Though my food standards are based on the wide variety of tastes I’ve encountered over 35 years and four continents, most kids are accustomed to a much simpler palate. They like no fuss, and they like to know what’s coming. That digestive philosophy is particularly applicable at school, where kids are either stressed or maniacally bored and depend on a reliable meal to break up the day and comfort their hormonal souls. They all know it’s not gourmet, but as one student put it, “us kids, we don’t mind it.”
The hallways on Wednesday were jam-packed with high school students at class change when McKinney seventh and eighth graders began to line up for lunch. More aloof and independent than their younger counterparts at Mills Lawn, they didn’t know what the kitchen was serving that day, and they weren’t worried about it. They would find out when they got to the front of the line.
The hot food section started with the everyday option of a soft pretzel and nacho cheese, toward which all five boys I asked crinkled their noses and gave dubious looks. The other standard options included cheese or pepperoni pizza, a chicken sandwich or a cheeseburger, which all agreed were absolutely acceptable in a pinch. The daily special was beef and cheese nachos with a side of corn. Ahmad ordered pizza, Liam had the chicken sandwich, Teran got the nachos, and I accepted my fate with the cheeseburger.
Next came the cold section, where students could pick a juice, a fresh or canned fruit, and a milk. Large and small salads were extra, as were chips and chocolate chip cookies, baked on the premises. The salad included cucumbers and one or two shavings of purple cabbage and a darker leafy green. I chose a salad because it looked better than the oranges, which were slightly concave, and dressed it at a pumping station on the way to our table.
The presentation was smart. Unlike the traditional trays at Mills Lawn, the older kids got paper-lined baskets and paper-wrapped sandwiches with the look and feel of a Sonic fast-food drive-thru. It was cute, hip, even, to be able to eat everything without utensils and participate in a high rate of disposability.
My salad was fine except for the viscous white dressing, a low- to no-fat waste of time. The cheese was American, and the burger a thin, gray patty looking at me like a little old man well past his prime. I took small bites and looked around me at healthy-looking kids eating vigorously and talking enthusiastically. I thought they looked alive, and relatively happy to be there, enjoying each other’s company. And just like at Mills Lawn, 15 minutes after the eating starts, it’s over, and the students, moving quite as one, beat a path to the gym to throw, kick and dodge balls before classes start again. Lunch lasts from 11:35 and 12:05, during which they can neither eat well nor play hard. But in this too they are kids, and perhaps they don’t mind.
After all this taste testing, I’m fueled to ask lots of questions about what’s in all this food, where it comes from, and how much we pay to feed it to the students in our district. Look for a report on that side of the school lunch room in the next Squid blog.