Back to Scratch: Cafeteria Lunches Go Old School

As schools face the growing problem of childhood obesity, they look to cafeterias of yesteryear for inspiration.

(Mike Blake/Reuters)
Megan is a sucker for sustainable agriculture and a good farmers market, she likes writing about food almost as much as eating it.

After years of downing highly processed foods in school cafeterias, students are starting to look worse for the wear, forcing school districts nationwide to add an additional concern to already full plates: childhood obesity.

Though wealthier schools have more easily met the challenge by altering their menus, the problem has been especially overwhelming for financially strapped school districts.

For schools in Greeley, Colorado, the answer is going back to scratch—returning to the cooking methods of yesteryear, when cafeterias produced simple meals in-house, reports the New York Times.

Noting that their student obesity rate was higher than surrounding areas, Greeley school administrators worried that their students weren't eating well—but cost stood in the way. After crunching numbers, however, they discovered that watching waistlines will actually amount to savings for the school.

Despite wanting healthier school lunches, many districts have felt stuck in the quicksand of factory food production, opting for cheap, pre-made meals that are often high in sugar, sodium, and artificial flavors. Greeley was among them. Discovering that simpler, healthier meals can actually cost less is welcome news to those schools, especially in districts where much of the student body receives reduced-price lunch.

“The biggest myth is that it costs more money,” Kate Adamick, a food consultant based in New York and cofounder of Cook for America, told the New York Times. Adamick says that eliminating producers and buying unprocessed foods at discounted rates could actually help schools who are struggling financially.

To prepare for the shift, Greeley's school district enrolled its cooks in a weeklong boot camp to train them on the kind of skills that large-scale cooking requires, from scaling up ingredients to preparing meats at the right temperatures.

Jeremy West, the nutrition services director for Weld County District 6, is happy to see the changes happen at schools that aren't necessarily well off. It's a sign, he says, that eating well is "not just for the elite."

Read the full story at the New York Times.

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