The State of School Lunches

What's eating ILS?

Last year, the federal government implemented free school lunches to all students nationwide to alleviate some of the economic strife caused by COVID-19. This year, the policy was cut, and some local schools ended their free lunch programs. However, Inland Lakes Schools will continue providing free lunch to all students, regardless of parental income.

But what exactly is in the food we eat? Are schools only required to abide by the base standards of the FDA?

As it turns out, no. Federal guidelines for school lunches as dictated by the USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) state that schools must offer:

-Fruits and vegetables as a distinct serving

-A M/MA (Meat/Meat Alternate) in the main dish

-At least 80% of grains offered must be 100% whole grain

-Fluid milk, low-fat if flavored

Among many other requirements. Although schools face many restrictions regarding the food they serve, the exact foods served are completely up to the individual schools.

So, how does Inland lakes choose what food we eat? I interviewed Laurie Fielder, a lunch lady, about what we eat, why, and how it gets here.

Apparently, certain days of the week have a “theme” of sorts: Mexican on Tuesdays and pasta on Wednesdays.

For non-scheduled days, Laurie says they choose a random food that falls within USDA guidelines. “It has to be balanced. You have five different components you can have in a thing. We have to have three with each meal,” she said, “five components” referring to the five food groups.

Extra snacks and drinks, such as the pop or chips that cost extra, must be sugar-free and low-calorie.

As for the process of actually preparing the food, they estimate how many students they will serve that day and prep accordingly, cooking and measuring food in ounces and cups. “Meat is supposed to be two ounces, maybe also a half a cup of a vegetable or a grain.”

To prevent contamination or spoilage, Laurie states that all imported food goes through two different security processes: the first by their supplier, Gordan’s Food Service, and the second here at Inland Lakes, where they ensure that the food is fresh and in the right place.

But why has Inland Lakes has continued its free school lunch program? “It’s the percentage of free and reduced kids we have. If they qualify for free and reduced it makes a percentage. Then, the state government decides that we are okay for free lunches every day,” and according to Laurie, free school lunches do not impact the choices available or the cooking process at all.