Lunch Tray Tales

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Excited and well-rested, I woke up bright and early to visit the Lafayette School District’s Food Service Director, Mark Davis. His assignment for me today was to meet with  the Lafayette Upper Elementary School cafeteria staff and have lunch with the students, observing what they loved to eat and what they left on their lunch trays. This is the first step in a plan to help Mr. Davis develop healthy and appealing lunch options for the elementary schoolers.

Having spent most of my time this year at the Lafayette High School and Middle School  I was pretty excited that this day I would be “hangin’ with the lil’ kiddos.” Before lunch started though, I met with the cafeteria staff, some of whom have been there for 16 plus years. They were kind and informative about their day-to-day duties and operations of the cafeteria. I felt that making a connection with the staff would really help me make suggestions that are useful to the healthy eating goals they have set for the year.

The real fun began when the 3rd graders marched into the cafeteria for lunch.  I expected lunch to be crazy, like a second recess, where everyone was delighted to see their friends and talk about how the days been going, eating snacks and hardly eating lunch (at least that’s what lunch time was like for me back in the day). However, the whole process was very structured. The lights went off when the students enter the cafeteria, a strategy they found works to keep noise levels down. The students went orderly through the lunch line, and were served the required fruit, vegetable, and milk. When the students sat at their tables, then the lights went back on and there was plenty of talking, laughing, and of course eating, just like I remember.

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The 3rd graders had a short 30 minutes to eat before the 4th graders started rolling in. I interacted with students as they came through the line, but most of my time was spent on trash duty. The chef asked me to take note of what made it into the garbage cans, so I got to see everything the students were throwing away. I already expected that not many kids would eat their fruits and vegetables, but I was shocked to find that overwhelmingly the green beans made it in the trash almost every time on every tray. The applesauce, trashed. The milk, chocolate and vanilla, not even opened, was trashed.

“Why  didn’t you eat the greens beans?” I asked.

“They’re nasty, they’re not like the ones I have at home, I don’t like green beans” the third-graders would answer.

“Did you try the green beans” I asked.

“NO” they answered.

After leaving the cafeteria, I was surprised that the students’ aversion to eating the healthiest items on their trays didn’t leave me with feelings of doubt or apprehension about the impact I am able to make as a FoodCorps Service Member.  On the contrary, having witnessed what I’m up against, I walked out of that cafeteria with a burst of determination.

Together with cafeteria staff, teachers, and the food service director, I want to inspire these kids to eat their fruits and vegetables and help them see how important they are for their well-being. Our team has cooked up some good ideas to reduce food waste in the cafeteria and empower students to eat their fruits and vegetables. For example, the students get excited about college visitors. So we’re going to have college students join the students at lunch to talk with them about eating the healthy options on their lunch trays. We are also going to start “Eat Healthy Day Assemblies” to build excitement around eating healthy foods.

“We” and “try” are the words I focus on, because to make change you need a team and you need to never give up in the face of adversity. Success comes one green bean at a time.