Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Would YOU Eat Orange Tater Tots?

I have developed quite a fondness for sweet potatoes, particularly in fried forms.  I'll eat sweet potato fries dipped in barbecue sauce until the cows come home (interesting turn of phrase there, isn't it?  Cows . . . but I digress . . .).  For this reason, I've become curious about sweet potato tater tots.  I've never had them, but they sound like they might be good.

However, my eldest -- who doesn't love but will eat sweet potato fries with me -- assures me that sweet potato tater tots are all kinds of nasty.  And that every kid in her school agrees; she has yet to see anyone finish, or even make a dent in, their pile of orange tots since they've been added to the school lunch menu.  Nearly every one ends up in the trash can.

Orange tater tots are apparently a result of the Michelle Obama push for kids eating healthier food.  And I am all for Mrs. Obama's cause -- it's ridiculous how we eat in this country, and the only way to change that is to start instilling healthy eating habits when kids are young.  However, this particular wing of the movement, the school lunch initiative, is not being handled well, it doesn't seem.  If my daughter's school is representative (and I have no reason to believe it is not), kids are not eating healthier.  Kids are simply throwing away more food . . . and devouring more greasy fast food after school because they're starving.  (I still wonder which came first in our neighborhood -- the high school, or the McDonald's a few blocks away.  Mickey D folks are no idiots.)

My husband saw this coming (he sees a lot of things coming -- quite the prophet, he).  He's worked many years in the segment of the food industry that markets to school lunch programs and understands well the issues.  Schools have to buy food that is inexpensive, that is easy to prepare in large quantities, and now that meets a bunch of additional nutrition requirements.  BUT -- they also realize that if it doesn't look, sound, and taste good, it will end up scraped off of the trays into the trash barrels.  They watch it happen every day.  Some of them can compartmentalize all this and say, "Well, I did my job.  I provided food that meets all the requirements and did it within my budget.  Whether the kids eat it or not is not my problem."  But others actually give a crap about the well-being of their charges and want their brains to be nourished so they can learn.  So, they HAVE to care about whether or not the food appeals to the young 'uns.

I really don't know the answer to this.  Kids come to school with appetites already whetted for the bad stuff, and apart from some Brave New World type of protect-the-kids-from-their-parents approach (which is a topic for another day . . . ), I don't know how we stop that.  But I would be very curious to hear research on how well this new push to healthier school lunches is going -- specifically how much food is being wasted.

At the very least, they should compost that food they scrap.  It would be the green thing to do.

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