The school year starts this week, and with it, kids will find themselves returning to school cafeterias for lunch.
I still remember my elementary school lunch lady at Amity Creek Magnet School in Bend. Her name was Peggy. I'd see her every weekday, twice a day, for breakfast and lunch. The French toast sticks were my favorite.
The story of school-provided lunch goes way back. The National School Lunch Program began in 1946 under President Harry Truman's National School Lunch Act, allotting nutritionally balanced, low cost or free lunches to children each school day. In 1966 the program was revamped with the enactment of the Child Nutrition Act. According to a Declaration of Purpose from Congress, the change was, "In recognition of the demonstrated relationship between food and good nutrition and the capacity of children to develop and learn."
According to the NSLP, in 2016 it operated in over 100,000 public and nonprofit private schools and child care institutions, serving students from pre-K through grade 12. The cafeterias served over five billion lunches, three-quarters of which were free or reduced-price. In total they provided $30.4 billion in free and reduced lunches.
According to Bend-La Pine Schools, 1,105 students in elementary and middle school were enrolled in the free and reduced lunch program as of June 1.
Menus at local public schools range from baked beef ziti to teriyaki chicken, burgers, pizza and salads at lunch. Schools in the district also offer breakfast, including yogurt, fruit and granola. Bend-La Pine Schools uses the Nutrislice app that allows parents to find out what's on the menu for the day and assess nutrition and allergy information for each menu.
The Bend-La Pine schools also make as much of the food as they can; all of the baked products come from the production facility at Bend Senior High School.
"It's quite a production," said Garra Schluter, Supervisor at Bend La-Pine Nutritional Services. "We try to make as much as we can and get food locally."
Students also are required to take a half-cup of fruit or vegetables at each meal, according to federal guidelines. Still, in 2017 U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue relaxed some of the Obama-era rules around school nutrition, making it possible for schools to offer fewer whole grains, more sodium and sugary chocolate milk during meals. Perdue told reporters that it didn't make sense to offer healthier options if kids weren't going to eat them.
Some schools aim to spice up the standard school lunch menu. Bend International School, a K-8 public charter school within the Bend-La Pine district, offers a Local-Global Lunch Program, offering an array of cuisines from around the world. The menu includes Italian Pizza Mondays, Mexican Cuisine Wednesdays and Asian Cuisine Thursdays, among other options.
Private schools also offer a mix of options.
For example, the Waldorf School of Bend, a private school, offers a "bring your own lunch" option four days a week, and "hot lunch" just one day a week. Older students (sixth grade and up) make the lunch as part of the school curriculum.
"The students start studying business math in sixth grade, and that's when they start cooking. They learn about profit and loss by the amount paid and received for the food," said Sarah Rucker, admissions director at the Waldorf School. "The younger children help with the meal too by tending the garden. Some of the food always comes from our garden."
All the profits received from the school lunch are used toward that grade's eighth grade trip, which is always an excursion out of town.
"It's more than just learning academics. We are really trying to teach them practical skills, from sewing a button on a shirt to cooking a meal," Rucker said.
And just in case you're wondering, the Bend-La Pine district still serves French toast sticks for breakfast.