I don’t think a single person I’ve ever met has loved school cafeteria lunches. In middle school, I saw classmates bounce meatballs off the table, and in high school I stuck to bag lunches—avoiding at all costs the ever-present grease-soaked hamburgers made in the cafeteria—A.K.A. the basement. I had hoped that my college “DH” (dining hall) would be different but sadly it’s not. It’s full of the same processed food that I’ve been trying to avoid since middle school.
While improving the cafeteria menu is an issue on many a concerned student government agenda, the ability for schools to actually make improvements has been difficult. Significant cuts in budgets, poorly equipped kitchens, and wariness regarding the preparation of raw meat—especially in the face of food-borne illnesses and consequent media frenzying—have lead to a huge dependence on the cheap, convenient, factory-made food that we all love to hate so much.
However, according to an article posted by the New York Times, schools are beginning to realize that cooking from scratch is healthier, tastier, and surprisingly more cost-efficient. For example, federal reimbursement rules can aid poorer schools in purchasing meat with serious discounts, and cooking on-site drives costs even lower.
In Greeley, Colorado, the process of re-vamping cafeteria food has already begun. Opposed to its factory counterpart comprised of 35 ingredients, the new burrito has only 12—subbing out strange inclusions like “potassium citrate and zinc oxide” for real cheddar cheese. But even though the ingredients are being updated to make a healthier and more delicious menu, classic menu items will remain. One Greeley school has no intention of eliminating a superstar like mac n’ cheese, but will replace processed with natural cheese—preserving the strange yellow color kids learn to expect with turmeric, an Indian spice.
Transitioning away from dependence on processed foods will not only lower costs for poorer schools, but combat youth obesity through providing healthier options with, undoubtedly, much less grease. These changes are starting in Colorado, but will definitely take some time to catch on elsewhere. According to Elida Martinez’s statement to the New York Times, as a kitchen worker for 32 years in the Greeley District, she hopes this process will “teach children how to eat again.”