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School Food 101

November 18th, 2011 - By Therese Madden




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Most people have an opinion about school cafeteria food, but how much do they truly know about how school cafeterias are run? A recent meeting at Lea Elementary School in West Philadelphia brought parents, students, district officials and advocates together to share their concerns about school lunch programs in the Philadelphia system.

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School Food 101. That’s the name of this community meeting at Lea Elementary School in West Philadelphia. Parents, educators, and students have gathered to learn more about school food, and why it is the way it is. Cameron Taylor is a 12th grader at Paul Robeson High School, it’s a Tuesday evening and he’s here on his own. “I just wanted to explore what is actually going on behind the school district when it comes to the school cafeteria food.”

Taylor wants to know why there can’t be healthier and tastier foods in his school. He also wants to find ways he can help change this. He’s not alone, “this is the most important issue that I find at our public schools.” Said Lyn Kirshenbaum, a mother of two. “Everything else at the school we go to is really wonderful, the thing that’s really terrible is the food, and copying fast food like chicken nuggets and stuff like that. I think that is disgusting. I don’t think there is any reason for that, even with the price restriction.”

School Lunch

But the price restrictions are a real issue. And so is choosing food the kids will eat, so it doesn’t just end up in the trash. Amy Virus works for the School District of Philadelphia, she admits it’s a challenge. “So, if you were to go out for lunch, try spending a $1.30 on lunch and see what you get.” One dollar and thirty cents. That’s what the School District has to spend per student per meal. Amy Virus again, “we at the school district work really hard to give a five component meal that meets all the requirements and is nutritious and is something that the kids want to eat.”

By a five component meal, she means on each tray there will be a grain or bread, fruit, vegetables, milk, and meat or a meat substitute. “And we know that our milk is about 25 cents, we know our fruit is about 20 cents so that leaves about 20 – 50 cents depending on how everything else plays out for us to put the center of plate item on that plate.” By the end of the evening, most participants admit to having a better understanding of why school lunches are the way they are, but that doesn’t mean they’re going to accept it. 12th grader Cameron Taylor is a teen advocate for healthier food. He says if you want change, you have to speak up. “If you actually speak loud enough, adults will listen. As long as you don’t come angry and off the wall then they will actually sit down and want to talk to you.”

Taylor has already convinced his school to offer more fresh fruits and vegetables in the cafeteria. And with months left until graduation and he plans to continue to work hard to leave a legacy of healthier food for years to come. “Before I leave high school I want to be able to create an impact on my school and actually have my name known after I leave.”

Slideshow Photo by Flicker user reed_sandridge / CC BY-NC 2.0

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Philly Food Bucks are coupons that help ACCESS/food stamp customers save money on fruits and vegetables. Philly Food Bucks can be redeemed for $2 worth of fruits and vegetables for every $5 spent in ACCESS/food stamps at a participating farmers' market. Learn more about Philly Food Bucks at the Philadelphia Department of Public Health's recently expanded web site Food Fit Philly.com. Now also accepted at the West Oak Lane Weaver's Way Food Coop.